Dr. Patrick Conley: I Hated to Like Cianci
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Buddy appointed me director of the Providence Crime Commission in 1977. I moved from that position to become his Chief-of-Staff in 1980 & 1981. During this entire span, I served as his speechwriter and chief of policy. My teaching requirements at Providence College and the start of my law practice caused me to relinquish the demanding Chief-of-Staff position in 1981, but I continued as speechwriter and policy advisor.
From April 1984 when Cianci first left office until his election in November 1990, we were business partners. Our most significant venture was the construction of a 4-story medical office building at 90 Plain Street, originally called the Parsons Medical Center (after Rhode Island Hospital’s founder Usher Parsons). It is now owned by a Boston investment firm.
During Buddy’s comeback campaign in 1990, I wrote his announcement speech and his policy papers--the latter totaling 108 pages--to help him secure a narrow victory in a 3-way race. When his opponents attempted to block him from becoming mayor because of his previous felony conviction, I opposed that effort in the RI Supreme Court and successfully argued for his installation. The case turned upon whether or not the constitutional ban on office holding by felons enacted by the 1986 Constitutional Convention applied retroactively to previously convicted felons (Cianci pleaded nolo in 1984). Since I was the chief legal counsel to the president of the 1986 convention, I was in a unique position to argue that it only applied prospectively. The Supreme Court agreed in a 4 to 1 decision. Thereafter I wrote Buddy’s inaugural address.
On the basis of those contacts, and my knowledge of Rhode Island history, I can state with assurance that Buddy Cianci was the most charismatic Rhode Island political figure in its history. He had great talent and ability which outweighed his several significant flaws. To liken him to other controversial American politicians, one might say that he had the quick wit, sense of humor, and popular appeal of Louisiana Governor and Senator Huey P. Long, the boldness, persistence, and audacity of Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, and the flamboyance of New York Mayor, Jimmy Walker. He will rank among the most dynamic, interesting, and controversial city mayors in all of American history.
I can speak of his attributes, because others, especially the local media, have incessantly focused on his flaws.
Some people liked to hate Buddy Cianci; I hated to like him. It is the mark of all great persons that they inspire both adulation and contempt. By that standard, Buddy was certainly great. He might be called the quintessential rogue of Rogues Island.