Marketing Providence: The Buddy Brand Factor

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


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Vincent "Buddy" Cianci.

The entrance of former Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci into the race for Mayor as expected has grabbed national -- and international -- attention for the pol known as much for his pasta sauce as his prison stint. 

Business Insider called Cianci the "poster boy of political scandals".  The Daily Beast dubbed him "America's favorite ex-con mayor." 

SLIDES: See National Cianci Coverage BELOW

So what does the Buddy "brand factor" mean for Providence? 

"If you think about moving here, you think twice," quipped Providence restaurateur Bob Burke of Pot au Feu.  "If you're coming for a visit, however, you hop in the car, come in, and hope you can get a picture with Buddy.  People flock to Chicago for the Al Capone stories.  Here, they come for Buddy."

Providence Then and Now

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All eyes on Buddy -- what does that mean for Providence?

Cianci, who during his previous administrations oversaw the construction of the city's new train station and skating center -- an inception of Waterfire -- helped make a Providence a tourist destination before being indicted on 27 federal criminal charges in 2001, ultimately being being convicted on a single charge of racketeering. 

Now, Cianci is gunning for a third go at the post -- and all eyes are on Buddy.  Jamie Fuller of the Washington Post dubbed Cianci the "PT Barnum of Providence."  Rhode Island native and former Today show host Meredith Vieira told the Boston Herald that Buddy's run was "fabulous."

"I think that if you look back through the Doorley administration,  you never had anyone who was a cheerleader for the city like Buddy was," said Burke.  "There's probably a built-in negative with potential businesses looking to locate here, but someone looking to go to a city for a three day vacation isn't deterred by the reputation of a Mayor -- I'm betting Toronto is seeing a big influx of visitors, because political characters are attractive to people.  Daly in Chicago..people are fascinated by old time political machines.  And in Providence and Rhode Island, they are oily political machines."

"As a Providence business owner, my main concerns are the commercial tax rate, and bringing more taxpaying businesses into the city of Providence, and more tourists," Burke continued.  "The tourist dollar is a fantastic dollar.  They can't send their kids to our schools, they rarely make use of our prisons, if they get sick they go home to New Jersey, they can't collect unemployment, TDI, or a state pension -- all the things that cost our government big money."

Burke made a case for the tourism and hospitality industry -- and need for jobs in the sector that in his eyes, benefits from the "Buddy brand."

"We have no skills gap.  We don't ask folks to go back to school, for a PhD, we'll hire you if you're skillless -- the only criteria we have is that you're willing to work hard and learn," said Burke.  "That should be a hallelujah message for the people who need jobs the most in our economy.  I think a populist mayor like Buddy understands -- or I hope understands -- that people need to be put to work that are already here, who are living on the first, second, third floors of tenements and need a job."

Using the Media - Or Vice Versa

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Waterfire -- part of the Buddy brand.

Burke recalled a particular episode where Buddy used his position to promote Providence -- and used the media to promote Buddy. 

"Back in the late [1990s], we had the great Providence-Boston restaurant challenge.  I went to the CVB, went to Buddy, and they were all in. Cantankerous Buddy?  He basically said, "Let's stick it to [then-Boston Mayor] Menino.  45 of us got on a tour bus, with a Boston police escort all the way up 93, and we went went up to Locke-Ober -- and we won," said Burke.  "We haven't had anything like it since.  We haven't had a Mayor understand media since Buddy."

So if, according to Burke, Buddy understands the media -- how does the media understand Buddy?

"In the Museum of American Political Scandals, if it ever gets built, there will be exhibits on Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner and Larry “Wide Stance” Craig and Marion Barry," David Freelander at the Daily Beast wrote this week.  "And there should be an entire wing dedicated to The Buddy Cianci Story,"


Related Slideshow: Buddy Cianci in the National Media

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The Economist

The Economist took a shot at Cianci and the city of Providence, referencing Cianci as a "gangster" and referring to Providence as "New England's armpit."

“Even Mr Cianci’s critics concede that he loves Providence and wants it to do well,” the article states. “But his reputation could deter businesses from moving to the city, which was once known as the ‘beehive of industry.’ Not all comebacks are welcome.”

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The Boston Globe

"He’s been the anticorruption candidate and the convict, his city’s savior and its sad laughingstock—sometimes simultaneously," quipped Boston Globe staff writer Nestor Ramos.

The Globe's piece on Cianci "auditioning one more time for a role he’s twice given up in disgrace" recapped each of the former mayor's first 2 stints in office, as well as noting his ability to stay relevant without holding public office.

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The Daily Beast

"Can America's Favorite Ex-Con Mayor Win Again?" the Daily Beast's David Freelander asks.

"In the Museum of American Political Scandals, if it ever gets built, there will be exhibits on Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner and Larry “Wide Stance” Craig and Marion Barry. And there should be an entire wing dedicated to The Buddy Cianci Story," Freelander writes.

The piece, linked again here, chronicles the ups and downs of Cianci's stints as mayor with playful references back to Freelander's hypothetical museum wing.

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Washington Post

"The most interesting man in Rhode Island is running for office. Again," states Jamie Fuller of the Washington Post.

Dubbing him "The P.T. Barnum of Providence," the Post details dozens of notable events from Cianci's tenures as mayor, from zoo breakouts to political scnadals to his stay in prison.

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The Wall Street Journal

"In Providence, Mr. Cianci, an Independent, is widely viewed as having an almost supernatural gift for retail politics, wrote Jennifer Levitz of the Wall Street Journal. "The long-standing joke was that at least one cliché was written for him: Buddy Cianci would attend the opening of an envelope."

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New York Times

The New York Times identified Cianci as "the garrulous and polarizing former mayor of Providence, R.I., whose two stints in office collapsed in felony convictions."

The NYT's Jess Bidgood wrote Cianci startled "those who assumed that his protracted public weighing of a mayoral bid could not possibly be serious. They are now left to contemplate the fact that a victory by Mr. Cianci, in a crowded field and with a devoted following, is not entirely out of the question."

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Business Insider

Business Insider called Cianci "The Poster Boy of U.S. Political Scandals" in their mostly AP-driven short on the former mayor's decision to run again.

Business Insider's Colin Campbell noted "there's no shortage of political baggage that could impede his comeback."

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Associated Press

"Under his watch, the city transformed from a down-at-the-heels urban center with a dwindling downtown to an arts and culture hub. He often boasts that he literally moved rivers to improve the downtown," wrote AP reporter Michelle Smith.  "He was the city's biggest cheerleader, and joked that as mayor he would attend the opening of an envelope. Stories abound in the city of times when Cianci would show up unannounced and uninvited to the smallest event, including neighborhood cookouts."

The AP story on Cianci's candidacy was picked up by many top political blogs and news outlets.

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Meredith Vieira

East Providence native and former Today and View star Meredith Vieira spoke with the Boston Herald about Cianci's return

“I think it’s fabulous,” Vieira said of Cianci’s decision to run. “He’s just part of Providence. He’s part of the fabric of Rhode Island history.”

Viera told the Herald her late mother "would be first in line" to vote for Cianci, recalling conversations they'd had in the past about the mayor.

“I’d say, ‘Mom, he’s kind of a crook isn’t he?’ She’d say, ‘I don’t care. The city is run beautifully,’” Vieira recalled. “And he did so much to turn that city around. I give that guy a lot of credit. Now, he does know where every body’s buried, clearly, but ...”


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