David Cicilline, The True Prince of Providence

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

 

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With the city of Providence facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, a question surfaced. Was the city better off with a “corrupt” mayor or a mayor whose name wasn’t readily equated with corruption? I use “corrupt” in quotes because Mayor Vincent A. Cianci was convicted of a federal corruption charge, namely running a criminal enterprise. As we dissect both mayors, I’ll let you decide whose tenure more resembled corruption.

One of the main complaints I heard about Cianci during his tenure as mayor was that he was a mayor who controlled everything. Essentially, if you wanted something done in Providence, large or small, it had to have the stamp of approval from the Mayor’s Office and usually Cianci wanted some kind of cut.

Buddy recently admitted that he did seek personal profit in his dealings with the city. Promoting his new memoir, he claimed, "I used my public power for personal reasons. I admit it. It probably wasn't the right thing to do, but it certainly felt good.” This isn’t anything new and if you dealt with the city during the Cianci era you understood how things operated.

As much as the perception of corruption plagued the Cianci years, they were also marked by his rather expressive love for his city. He brought the Providence Bruins to town, championed the Providence Place Mall when just about everyone said it was a bad idea, and we still go to see fire on the water because of him. Just about every Providence resident I’ve met who lived in Providence before the Cianci years and after says that the changes he introduced revolutionized the city – for the better. You just can’t deny the positive effect he had on the city.

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Conversely, during the Cicilline era did Providence get better? What’s the new WaterFire, Providence Place Mall, or P-Bruins? Can’t think of anything? How about the various movies/television shows that have littered – yes, littered – the streets of Providence the last half decade? Please allow me a sarcastic “Woo hoo!!” Here’s what I think of when recalling the last eight years in Providence – reduced crime, the mayor squabbling with the firefighters, and overall a lack of…corruption. Yet, here we are today and new Mayor Taveras just informed us the city is facing a $110 million dollar deficit.

I’m not sure the Prince of Providence left Cicilline with $110 million reasons why he should rethink his decision to run for Mayor, but that’s Cicilline’s legacy. To my surprise, Cicilline addressed the mess by writing a letter to his supporters:

At the beginning of each fiscal year for all the years I served as Mayor of Providence, we began the budget process with a gap between expected revenues and expenses. Put simply, there are never enough resources to do all the things you would like to do.

In each of these years, we closed this gap and balanced our city budget by taking cost cutting actions, eliminating positions, reforming the pension system, earning concessions from city unions, imposing pay freezes and furlough days, advocating at the General Assembly for relief from mandates and sometimes by generating new revenues and using some of our reserves.

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Seriously, Congressman? Seriously!! Rep. Cicilline’s response is a defensive, responsibility shirking, musing from the real Prince of Providence. How the Congressman can say with a straight face that “we closed this gap” is mindboggling. If $110 million deficit is closing the gap, I hate to see what would constitute NOT closing the gap. Obviously, cities and towns have faced tremendous budgetary problems over the last several years and many mayors have had to raise taxes, cut expenses, and the kind. That mayor Cicilline felt the need to address an issue of this magnitude AFTER he left office, in my opinion, speaks volumes to the difference between Mayor Cianci and Cicilline.

Mayor Cianci loved Providence, bled Providence, and did all he could to push the city forward. His vice was that he took advantage of the power and according to a federal judge, abused it. Mayor Cicilline, in my mind, never seemed to connect with everyday residents and always seemed to have an excuse for why things weren’t changing. It’s the economy, the governor, the firefighters. Perhaps his vice was not abusing his power but I think it could be something far worse – hubris. As noted in the Congressman’s letter to the city, what’s going wrong in the city isn’t his or his administration’s fault. No, he did all he could for the city and it’s someone or something else’s fault for the city’s problem.

Think Cianci would have tackled this crisis like that? Puhhlease. And what’s worse, Cicilline was able to get elected to Congress and probably would have faced little opposition had he run for reelection despite all of this. More than likely, he’ll be reelected in 2012 as citizens across the state purposely forget what Cicilline did to the city. It’s strange, the people in this state are amazing – in a good way.

They remember Cianci’s fine points and mostly ignore his faults, the same seems to be holding true with Cicilline. I think that makes Rhode Islanders one of the most resilient/forgiving people in the nation. Still, it’s also why I believe the moniker, Prince of Providence, is more apropos for Cicilline than Cianci.

Somehow Cicilline steered the city towards a $110 million dollar deficit and for his efforts he was rewarded with a higher office. Cianci brought the city back from obscurity and was rewarded with federal prison time. For my money, I prefer the mayor who did a lot for the city who may have broken a few rules over the mayor who didn’t break the rules, but also takes no responsibility for the crippling mess the city currently faces.

How about you?
 

 
 

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