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video: 1-on-1 with Vartan Gregorian, Former Brown President, on Buddy Cianci

Friday, January 29, 2016


Vartan Gregorian, photo courtesy of Carnegie Foundation

Former Brown President Vartan Gregorian had a close professional and personal relationship with Buddy Cianci at the height of Providence’s success.

Gregorian served as the President of Brown from 1989 to 1997.

“He and I developed a strong relationship and it was based on two components - he would not surprise me and I would not ignore him,” Gregorian told GoLocal in an interview on Thursday. 

During the course of Gregorian and Cianci’s overlapping tenure in Providence, the city was transformed.  The successes included the completion of the redevelopment of the rivers, creation of Waterplace Park, construction of the Convention Center, and Providence Place Mall.

Today, Gregorian is President of Carnegie Foundation of New York. It is one of America's leading foundations and has provided grants of nearly $1.2 billion over the past decade.

Gregorian said that his first interaction with Cianci was on his radio show prior to Cianci returning as Mayor of Providence in 1991. “Staff told me not to go on the radio show. Cianci’s first question was, 'What has Brown done for Providence?” recalled Gregorian.  

The then-new Brown President explained to Cianci that Brown did a lot for the city. “First, I answered that because the city doesn’t put up proper signs, Brown students and their parents pay nearly $640,000 in parking tickets. And the Brown cars are the most stolen and we provide a great supply to Providence’s chop-shops, making Providence number one in stolen cars in America," said Gregorian. "The response cemented our friendship." 

This first interaction was the spark to a strong relationship between the Mayor and Gregorian that last for decades.

Van Wickle Gates, Brown University

He Knew Everything About Everyone in RI

“Cianci was a great dinner companion. He knew everything about everyone in Rhode Island,” said Gregorian.

During the course of the time in which Cianci reigned over Providence and Gregorian led Brown, Providence’s reputation transformed. “He made Providence’s culinary reputation and the city was able to compete with much bigger cities like Boston as a restaurant city,” said Gregorian.

"It was Cianci that brought the artists downtown and made it much safer. He brought Johnson and Wales downtown," said Gregorian rattling off Cianci's accomplishments.

He was a Tragic Figure

“In many ways Cianci was a tragic figure. The city was not big enough for him and how smart he was. He was both so good and so bad. There was one time a he sent a Providence Police officer to drive to New York City to deliver to me his marinara sauce. Believe me it was unsolicited and excessive,” said Gregorian.

Gregorian, who is globally recognized as a leader in philanthropy and higher education, has spent a career with world leaders and the greatest minds in education and business. Gregorian said to GoLocal that Cianci is c"learly one of the 100 most interesting people" he had ever met.

“When he went to jail I wanted to send him flowers, but my wife (Claire) told me that don’t allow flowers in jail," said Gregorian.

Cianci named the Fox Point Elementary School in Gregorian’s honor - the school is now named the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and is located on Wickenden Street.

"Cianci, he lived for Providence," said Gregorian.



Related Slideshow: Community Leaders and Friends React to Cianci’s Death

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Rick Simone, President of Consulting Group EGN

"It's one of those days you wish you had more time to prepare.  It was 25 years of my life. I met him when I was only 17, as a young college kid to now, being able to call him my friend.  He changed everything about Providence -- the landscape of the city and state -- without even trying.  

Despite his personal and professional trials and tribulations, it didn't matter when he was your friend.  Talk about lessons -- he was the king of loyalty, and he taught you what that meant.  He said, 'You carry someone's bags to the end.'  I teach my kids and my friends that -- I'll never forget where I was when he said it, why he said it. He had a way of lifting people's morale"

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Ray Rickman, Former State Rep and Deputy Secretary of State

"It's what I've always said, Buddy was Providence's greatest mayor ever. Did he have some flaws?  Yes.  Doesn't everybody? No one should leave with, 'He was indicted and jailed'.  Yes he did that, but please don't forget PPAC, Providence Place Mall wouldn't exist without him, that Capital Center wouldn't look like it did.  I had a stick when I got off at the old train station because of the rats  There was no Waterfire. I was a volunteer for 20 years at West End Community Center-- Buddy built four or five of them -- it wasn't all downtown.  I was on the HRC, I had some problems with him there. He wasn't a perfect moral man, but who is? He has a hundred legacies." 

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Joseph Paolino, Former Mayor of Providence

"With this morning's passing of Providence's longest serving mayor, Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., the people of Providence and the City itself have lost its greatest champion. He gave his heart to Providence, and the city's energy and its very soul will always reflect his love and his brilliance in forging the Providence Renaissance.

Our thoughts and prayers are now with his family and his fiancée. As arrangements are made, more information will be released."

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Beryl Kenyon, Former Cianci Campaign Staffer

"Everyone is heartbroken and in a state of shock. Everyone who was fortunate to have worked with him, and witnessed his magic, his brilliance -- are completely heartbroken at this time." 


Photo courtesy of Facebook

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John Lombardi, State Representative and Former Interim Mayor

"In some ways he was a visionary, and in some ways he could be feisty and adamant in his ways. I had my political issues with him, but at the end of the day -- I respected him. I feel bad for his family and his fiancee.  I know the whole family. And Buddy and I had the same birthday - April 30."

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Paul MacDonald, President, Providence Central Federated Council

"I just found out, my breath was taken away. We don't have enough time to talk about Buddy -- he was incredible guy, there will never be another Cianci.  He was once in a lifetime.  Him and I, we had a love-hate relationship for years.  We'd fight from time to time, but yet we loved each other.  It was almost romantic.  We'd go through periods where we didn't talk to each other, and we both knew we wanted to.  I've got hundreds of labor stories about him.  He was rascal, he was my rascal.  I remained friendly with him.  Getting close to him was monumental task, but I'm one of the few who did."

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Leah Reels

I'm shocked and saddened to hear of Buddy’s passing. I was truly honored to be selected by the Legendary Honorable Mayor Buddy Cianci, to serve as his Co-Chair along side Councilman Kevin  Jackson. He was a polarizing figure to be sure, but I don’t believe there is anyone who did more for the city he loved. Providence is a far better place because of Buddy Cianci, and he will be truly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, fiancé Tara Marie Haywood, and friends. He inspired me and mentored me in so many ways. He will truly be missed! 

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Ray Flynn, Mayor of Boston

"I will miss my long time friend Buddy Cianci. He was a great Mayor to the City of Providence. I just spoke to him the other day about family, politics and Friar basketball. I was proud to stand with him in good times and the rough days as well. He often called Joe Paolino and me his two most loyal friends; which I was proud to be called. His visits to Rome, and our many meetings when we were mayors we're very special. We remained close friends. He did a lot to help the people of Providence and he will be deeply missed.”

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Artin Coloian, Former Cianci Chief of Staff

"He will be sadly missed.  My heart breaks for his family.  They've gone through quite a bit," said Coloian.  "His accomplishments will live on."

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 Kevin Jackson, City Council Majority Leader

"I can tell you for me, and my interactions with him, he truly loved the city, he had a vision, and he got things done.  We can debate that back and forth about his legacy -- but he pushed things through. 

People forget about the positive stuff. People forget about the sacrifices -- your family gets hurt.  You have that on your shoulders.  You have to give up so much."

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 Stephen Day, Former Head of the Providence Firefighters Union

"I think that what he did for Providence will be his legacy. He gave his heart and soul to the city.  He had his faults, as all humans do.  No one can question his love for the city and his personal mission to make it better.  

He will be missed, I knew the family well. Nicole had worked for me me.  Her children, his sister -- it's got to be tough for them.  You know like some families have matriarchs? He was the patriarch. 

History will judge him more kindly now that he passed -- i hope he finds peace that we all hope to find someday.  He was a smart guy, and witty -- I think his biggest downfall was that people saw much potential in him. He was a true genius."

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Luis Aponte, City Council President

“Today is a sad day as our city mourns the loss of its longest-serving mayor. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends. Mayor Cianci’s shadow looms large over the City of Providence. His brilliant mind, charisma, passion, and love for Providence are woven into his legacy. “

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Mark Curtis, Former ABC-6 News Reporter

"Buddy Cianci always talked about politicians needing to "have the fire in their belly" to run for public office. In April 2014 he got up on a chair at his 73rd birthday party, and gave one of the most rousing political speeches I'd ever heard. At that point, I knew he'd run for mayor, despite the cancer, and his colorful past. When he got up on that chair and at that age - in his medical condition - you just knew he still had "the fire is his belly" to run for office in the city so so loved - whether he ultimately won or not."

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Darrell West, Brookings Institution 

"Buddy Cianci was a larger than life figure who had a major impact on the city of Providence. He was the city’s biggest cheerleader when he was mayor and worked hard to push the area forward and renovate the downtown. A considerable part of Providence’s progress over the past few decades was due to Buddy’s vision and leadership. He helped the city get over the hump to a future that looks very promising.

The downside of Buddy was the behavior that led to his time in prison. That was a dark spot for him and the city as a whole. It produced lots of negative publicity for Providence and made it difficult to convince outsiders that the city had turned the page on its past. With Buddy, there always was the good and the bad sides."

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Taft Manzotti, Former Providence Police Union President

"He was man of controversy and conviction -- that's what I'll remember about him.  He had a vision of what the city wanted to be.  I had both sides of him, he was a difficult negotiator, but he liked people who stood up to him. There ware many sides to Buddy -- and that's how I remember him, and of course I'll remember Joe Rodio in dealing with him." 

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Joanne Giannini, Former State Rep and was Volunteer Coordinator for 2014 Campaign

"I've known him for 40 years -- I knew how much he loved the city.  I met him in '74 -- I was already working in City Hall, I was his secretary in the transition office.  I was young, I was 19, he was 33 -- full of vision, ambition.  When he came in, the city was asleep, and he woke it up.  

I had worked in City Hall for 27 years and then I became a State Rep and did a lot of work for the district, we did a lot of good things together -- Waterfire, the building of Providence, really -- the skating rink, the zoo was nothing until he became Mayor.  I worked this past election, we had 1,000 volunteers.  He still had the same vision that he wanted to make Providence not better -- he wanted it to be the best.  It's like an end of an era in Providence, there were so many supporters who valued his opinion.  We laughed, he argued, we had that type of relationship...I just feel it's such a loss.  He may have been have 74, but he was 33 at heart."

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Joseph McNamara, Rhode Island Democratic Party

"The Rhode Island Democratic Party joins fellow Rhode Islanders in offering deepest sympathies on the sudden passing of Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci to his fiancée, family and colleagues. 

His colorful personality, passion for living and dedication to all things political will long be remembered: his larger than life personality will be greatly missed. 

Buddy Cianci  was a true legend in Rhode Island, and he will leave a lasting mark on government, politics and his beloved capital city," 

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Mayor Jorge Elorza 

"Mayor Cianci's love for Providence was undeniable. My thought and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult Time. 

City flags will be flown at half-staff as the City makes arrangements to recognize Mayor Cianci's memory."

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 Nicholas A. Mattiello, Speaker of the House 

“We have lost a giant on the Rhode Island political landscape. Buddy Cianci moved the City of Providence forward with many impressive accomplishments. In his second career as a radio and TV host, he was an informative voice who engaged many Rhode Islanders in the political process. He will be deeply missed.”


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