PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Providence said goodbye on Monday to former Mayor Buddy Cianci, the wisecracking king of one-liners who led the city during a turbulent and troubled six terms.
Dozens of people lined the sidewalks during a driving snowstorm to watch Cianci’s casket make its way from City Hall, where he ruled for 21 years, to the cathedral where his funeral was held. A bagpiper led the procession, and a horse-drawn carriage carried Cianci’s flag-draped casket through city streets, pausing at the Providence Performing Arts Center to mark Cianci’s commitment to the arts.
“We’ll never see another Buddy Cianci,” said Billy Vigeant, who stood in the bitter cold and snow in the city’s Federal Hill section, a Cianci stronghold, to wave goodbye as the hearse took Cianci’s body on its final journey out of Providence. “He was the face of Providence. He lived it, breathed it, loved it, made it.”
Since his death, Cianci has been remembered as one of America’s most colorful and skilled politicians. He became known nationally for his wit, endless TV appearances and his own brand of pasta sauce. But he also was known for presiding over years of widespread corruption.
Some in recent days have complained the honors bestowed on Cianci were too much for a convicted felon. But some others who lined the streets to watch the procession Monday said Cianci was railroaded by overzealous prosecutors and did not deserve prison.
Cianci, a Republican-turned-independent, was forced from office twice. In 1984, he pleaded no contest to assaulting a man he believed was sleeping with his ex-wife.
He won the office back in 1990 before being brought down again in 2002 with his conviction for racketeering conspiracy.
Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin presided over his funeral. It was attended by around 500 people, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and current Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who defeated Cianci for the post in 2014, when Cianci tried a comeback.
He was eulogized as a visionary leader and skilled promoter of his city who relished the political arena.
His criminal activity was mentioned only obliquely. His 4 ½ years in federal prison at Fort Dix in New Jersey were referred to as “his time away” or his “life in New Jersey.”
Former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino recalled a seven-hour visit with Cianci there and remembered thinking: “This guy doesn’t belong here. He has so much talent, and it’s being wasted.”
He recalled Cianci’s 1990 campaign slogan: “He never stopped caring about Providence.”
“Buddy, we hope you are looking down today with pride, knowing that we, that Providence, will never stop caring about you,” Paolino said.
The Rev. Bernard Healey joked that Cianci was keeping an eye on the city’s response to the storm during the funeral.
“He’s finding out which streets haven’t been plowed yet and which streets will never be plowed,” Healey said.
Three TV stations broadcast the funeral live. Cianci’s nephew, Brad Turchetta, said his uncle would enjoy the pomp and circumstance.
“Bigger is always better,” he said. If Cianci had his way, Turchetta said, “he would want it broadcast in 46 countries.”
After the funeral, Cianci’s body was taken through one of his favorite neighborhoods, Federal Hill, for a final goodbye to the city he loved. His burial was at a cemetery in neighboring Cranston.
Cianci died Jan. 28 at age 74. He served 21 years in office and was the city’s longest-serving mayor. His cause of death still has not been released, but he was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and surgery.
Flags were lowered at City Hall and at the Rhode Island Statehouse for Cianci.
Associated Press writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.
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