Siedle Calls Cianci “Rhode Island’s Least Dangerous Politician”

Saturday, January 30, 2016


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Photo courtesy of Richard McCaffrey

I first met Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the celebrated ex-mayor of Providence who dominated Rhode Island politics for decades, at Tammany Hall Pub and Parlor toward the end of Federal Hill in Providence. I had been invited to the Ocean State for a luncheon with labor leaders the following day in April 2013 to discuss a series of articles I had written in Forbes about the state pension. Tammany Hall is a great pub and, better still, a rare classic cigar bar—not a modern-day Man Cave devoid of social vitality. In this pub, there was a lot more talking than smoking.

Buddy had read my Forbes articles and having heard about my coming to town, he wanted to hear—from the horse’s mouth—what the controversy was all about.

“Buddy Cianci, Rhode Island’s most popular talk radio show host on WPRO 630, would like to buy you a drink,” I was told. As luck would have it, I happen to enjoy a good weekly cigar and Manhattan and this night of the week seemed as good as any.

The articles I had written detailed a diabolic scheme State Treasurer Gina Raimondo had master-minded to cut pension benefits promised state workers by 3%– supposedly  to make the pension more sustainable. What she neglected to tell the public was that she had secretly agreed to increase the investment fees paid to Wall Street hedge fund and private equity billionaires by a corresponding amount.

Wall Street darling Raimondo’s so-called “pension reform” was nothing more than a massive wealth transfer backed by her powerful out-of-state financial pals. While Wall Street’s solution to every problem is (and has always been) PAY US MORE, paying higher fees is no way to make a state pension more sustainable—trust me. Buddy knew.

That night Buddy was both friendly and engaging, yet through the smoke and flowing alcohol, he was intensely focused.

Buddy was aware that all Rhode Islanders had been swept into the controversy regarding the sustainability of the state and local pensions and he sincerely wanted to know how the facts I had uncovered would change the debate. More than a talk show host pursuing a scoop, he cared.

He asked whether I could appear on his radio talk show at rush hour the following day and on his taped Sunday television show. He sensed that this out-of-towner was “on to something.” Over the past few years, I have regularly been invited to return to Buddy’s radio show, updating the public on my newest investigative findings.

No one else cared that there might be another side to the story crafted by state leaders.—only Buddy.

As much as conventional Rhode Island politicians may have scorned him, the people of Rhode Island knew he cared about them and they couldn’t help but care about him too—no matter what. Believe it or not, “people skills” do matter even today—far more than debating finesse, or an impressive resume.

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Ted Siedle

Buddy may not have always acted with the public’s best interests in mind, but, by today’s standards, he would likely be considered Rhode Island’s least dangerous politician. Any corruption he may have been involved with amounted to chump-change. He never dared to sell the state out to Wall Street, costing billions.

Like so many others, I will miss him.

The article was originally published in Forbes on January 29, 2016


Related Slideshow: Leaders React to Buddy Cianci Running Again

Forced twice to resign as Mayor of Providence - Buddy Cianci is back to try again for the office of Mayor. The reaction from political, reform and business leaders strong -- for and against the return of Cianci.

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Darrell West

Darrell West - Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at Brookings and former Head of the Taubman Center at Brown University

West says:

The race is wide open with Cianci's entry. He has a four-way race which lowers the threshold for winning. It is conceivable someone could win with 30 percent of the vote and that person could be any of the four.
Cianci has to explain why he deserves another shot after having gone to jail. Many will be skeptical but he doesn't need a majority to win.


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Ron St. Pierre

Ron St. Pierre - Host of News Radio 920 and served as Buddy Cianci's producer on Cianci's radio show. St. Pierre is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame

St. Pierre says:   

Buddy enters a crowded field which is exactly the kind of race he thrives on. He hits the ground running thanks to the constant exposure from his radio and TV jobs while others in the race are just launching their attempts to define themselves to potential voters. He brings a bigger than life character to the race that will certainly grab the national spotlight but the big question is how Providence and Rhode Island will be perceived under that microscope. Do we really want the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets rehashing tales of corruption as we try to reshape our image and get out of the fiscal doldrums?

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version gave the in correct attribution to this statement. It was previously attributed to Bill George.

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Victor Profughi

Victor Profughi - Adjunct Professor at the University of Rhode Island and the founder of Quest Research, a political polling agency. He is one of the most well-respected pollsters in the market.

Profughi says: 

A multi-party (candidate) race is exactly what Buddy needs to have his best shot. 

Buddy's decision to run as an Independent it seems to me gives him more time to put his campaign together.  Also, I'm confident that he polled his options and the data showed him that his best shot was an Independent in what appears to be a four person race in November.  Harrop and Adrian will probably pull a relatively small number of votes that Buddy wouldn't have gotten anyway.  Very likely somewhere between 38 and 40% of the vote will produce a winner.  Buddy almost certainly can count on at least 35% or so before he does the main unknown is just how many votes can Adrian and Harrop get.
And the other very significant variable will be what will the Latino voters do, but in the primary--where in theory they could pick a winner who they might then well stay with come November.
As for parties, the Republican party in Providence is virtually for the Democrats, as a party organization they haven't been much of a factor in at least 35 years or so.
It will be interesting to see how effectively Buddy is able to mobilize an organization, with boots on the ground.  I would never count him out.
As far as the Democrats are concerned for their free for all primary, Solomon probably gets an additional boost absent Cianci.  


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Tom Finneran

Tom Finneran - Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House and GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

Finneran says: 

I never met him but I'm aware of his legend. By all accounts, he put Providence on the map as an against-all-odds very successful city. As politics becomes ever more bland, ever more vanilla, and ever more pedestrian, Buddy would bring energy and life to the campaign in vivid color.

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Valerie Endress

Valerie Endress, Professor of Communications at Rhode Island College

Endress says: 

The dynamic of the race certainly changes with Buddy Cianci’s announcement.  For good or ill, Buddy doesn’t need to introduce himself to those who are most likely to vote in a primary election.  So, unlike other  candidates, he won’t have the same challenges.  He’ll receive national attention, and a disproportionate amount of the coverage in Rhode Island. His celebrity will inhibit the process, in so much that the other candidates will struggle to be heard.  

We’ve seen demonstrable evidence that party influence is weakening.  I’m not sure, however, that Cianci’s move will prompt further erosion in Rhode Island.  If either of the parties take the lead in negative advertising aimed at Cianci, it might actually strengthen party unity. The Democrat Party, especially, can ill afford to sit idly by and watch the former mayor gain momentum.  If either of the parties move aggressively,  Buddy’s candidacy could actually have a galvanizing effect.

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Brett Smiley

Brett Smiley - Democratic Candidate for Mayor and former Political Columnist

Smiley says:  

Buddy Cianci, the twice-convicted felon who remains the poster boy for the corruption and pay-to-play politics of the past, announced his candidacy for Mayor of Providence. And I've been the only candidate to stand up to him — to fight against the "know a guy" culture in Providence and articulate my vision for growing our economy, keeping our streets safe and improving our schools with integrity. Cianci's been the mayor before, and he had to step down on felony charges. Shockingly, he was elected mayor a second time ... and he again had to step down on felony charges. Now he wants a third shot, and many pundits think he actually has a chance. We cannot let that happen.

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M. Charles Bakst

M. Charles Bakst - Longtime Political Reporter and Columnist for the Providence Journal

Bakst says: 

I cannot believe Cianci will run. If he does, it will be a dramatic setback and utter embarrassment for Providence and Rhode Island. And heaven forbid that he should win. Fortunately, I don't think he would.

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Joe Paolino

Joseph Paolino, former Mayor of Providence and Real Estate and Casino Developer

Paolino says: 

I don't think anyone else cares about other offices or races right now.

People view Buddy as an iconic figure.   If he runs, I think he wins.  I think people like they way he ran this city -- it was safe, streets were taken care of, he expanded the tax base.  He's not a foreign policy type of mayor.

He cares about the basics of city government, so people get their money's worth. People felt like when he was there, he was a cheerleader and he made people feel good about the city that they lived in. People know he cares about Providence and get things done. 

I want Superman filled, 195 developed properly, my streets to be safe -- my car's been broken into twice, a car stolen -- I want to see someone who's going to get something done, and fight for this city up at the state house.  They won't do that with anyone else running.  Their lives haven't been defined by the city of Providence for 40 years.

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John Marion

John Marion - Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island

Marion says:  

It would be a tragedy for the City of Providence and the state of Rhode Island if Buddy Cianci were to run again. He has twice had his opportunity to lead the capital city and he led it as a criminal enterprise. It's time for Rhode Island to move past our reputation for corruption; a Buddy Cianci mayoralty would only reinforce the national narrative about our state. Public office is held as a public trust, and this will not help restore faith in our government.

As we continue to dig ourselves out of our fiscal woes, and try to lure investment and create jobs, this cannot help us in our competition with other states. As we try to encourage national foundations to further invest in our schools, as we try to develop the I-195 land, as we try to send the signal that we are a 21st Century city, a return to the politics of our past would only hurt those efforts.

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Phil West

Phil West - Author and Government Reform Expert, former Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island

West says: 

I assume Buddy Cianci will try to repeat his 1990 run as an independent. He won by 317 votes. During his second act as mayor I watched him in action. He was a consummate performer who charmed and entertained the crowds while he nursed his grudges and bullied anyone who dared to disagree. He terrified people. 

I don't believe his character has changed. Providence would again get lots of razzle-dazzle on the surface, but underneath the same cynical bullying.  If he won again, he would use the powers of his office and the force of his personality to beat down anyone who resisted. As in his earlier administrations, Providence would get a third act of All About Buddy. 

After two Cianci administrations rife with corruption, he wants a third bite of the apple. Sensible people need to refuse. 

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Don Roach

Don Roach - GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™ and former Republican Candidate for City Council in Cranston

Roach says: 

Buddy back in the mayor's office might be the best thing to hit Providence since...well, since the Providence Place Mall.  Buddy is an old time politician but his heart is laser focused on the city. The city needs someone with that mindset who isn't thinking about Providence as a stepping stone to something else.

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Dan Harrop

Dan Harrop - GOP Candidate for Mayor of the City of Providence

Harrop says:  

"I look forward to Mr. Cianci entering the race for Mayor.  While his time to run the city is clearly in the past, and with all its other problems Providence does not need its leader to be a convicted felon as it moves into the future, nevertheless I look forward to his entry.  This will give us the opportunity to further look at his mis-management of the city, such as the 6% cost-of-living increases he allowed in pensions, which has led our pension system to the brink of bankruptcy."

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Jorge Elorza

Jorge Elorza - Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Providence and Professor  at Roger Williams University

Elorza says: 

"We're not focusing on elements that are beyond our control, such as who decides to enter the race and when. We're much more focused on the things we can control, like what we're doing about the issues that are important to Providence's citizens: economic development, rebuilding the middle class, improving our schools and our neighborhoods. Our message is about bringing the city together as One Providence, and those fundamentals remain the same regardless of who is in the race."

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Carol Costa

Carol Costa - GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™ and Executive Director of the Warren Housing Authority

Costa says: 

The chances that Vincent Cianci again enters the ring to shepherd the city he truly loves remain very good. In Buddy terms, if I had an extra "C note"  I would bet he runs.  It was nearly a year ago I weighed in on political redemption as I opined about the Mayor in part:, "It is his knack for returning to limelight, prominence and politics that is nothing short of Poli Sci textbook material; the professor of the comeback by Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. Do the crime, do the time, spin it like a champ, write a book and move forward." But this time I see the return less about him and more about the city he genuinely loves. Providence for Buddy is life blood. Politics for Buddy is sport. Sharing his experiences on the radio is irresistible. Put them together and his candidacy will be formidable.

His constant advice via the radio waves always begins and ends with the promise that Providence will be divine yet again. When and if he returns to city hall in my view, he will be working for the redemption and reinvigoration of Providence first and the accolades that will follow secondary. If he succeeds in restoring economic development and imparting his traditionally huge visions are what seem to be the most motivating factors. I feel he posses a mission and a fire in his belly to re-energize the capital city. He appears primed to lead a new renaissance. 

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Brett Smiley

Brett Smiley - Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Providence and former Political Fundraiser (statement below was said before the announcement)

Smiley says:

"We have a unique opportunity to bring about a true economic renaissance in Providence that benefits all our residents, and we need to capitalize on this moment with forward-thinking leadership. Since Day One of my campaign, I've clearly articulated my vision for a City Hall that's run with transparency and integrity. We cannot afford to return to the problems of the past by electing a man who served time in federal prison for political corruption." 

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Lorne Adrain

Lorne Adrain - Independent Candidate for Mayor of Providence and Financial Advisor

Adrain says: 

“As I wrote in my “City must move on from its Buddy fixation” op-ed from last Friday, this is a distraction from the real issues facing our city.  Elections are about the future.  They are an opportunity for us to discuss how we are going to take Providence from where we have been, to where we should be.  Providence deserves a serious debate about the future of our city in the coming election.”



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