Russell Moore: Michael Milken, Buddy Cianci, and Redemption

Monday, October 13, 2014


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You'd never knowing it reading the editorial pages of The Providence Journal, (and, more increasingly, the news pages) but there is a such thing as redemption. 

Or, perhaps if one looks past the endless editorials which point out that Cianci is a convicted felon and the mention in every single news story and column, (at this point, is there really a single Journal reader who doesn't know about Cianci's past?), and reads some of their other news stories, readers can see the possibility or people to turn around their checkered pasts and right those wrongs.

Oh, the irony

That's the thought crossed my mind as I was perusing twitter on Thursday and saw a tweet from none other than the Providence Journal, plugging a story about a Foster Public School Teacher who had earned the state's latest Milken Educator Award. The Milken Educator Award is given to teachers in all 50 states every year, and carries a prize of $25,000 to the winning teacher. Obviously, the teacher in question, Reading Specialist Erin F. Quinlan, deserves kudos for being an excellent teacher and positive stories such as that make for excellent, uplifting reading.

But I couldn't help but notice some irony floating right below the surface level. Michael Milken, a legendary Wall Street investor who is credited with the creation of high yield bonds, commonly referred to as "junk bonds", is a convicted felon. There was no mention in the story of that fact, and no insinuation of the fact that the award is somehow tarnished of less worthy. 

In fact, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts, a staunch opponent of Cianci, was quoted in the story. She apparently had no issue that the award was given by a fellow with a checkered past.

Folks can be redeemed

Here's the thing: there shouldn't be. Milken's fantastic philanthropic work, and to a lesser extent, his upending of the financial sector and all the wealth creation that accompanied it, dwarf the wrongdoing to which Milken has been implicated. Milken, for his part, was indicted for racketeering and securities fraud in 1989. In a plea bargain, he pled guilty to securities violations, but the racketeering and securities fraud charges were dropped.

Milken served two years in prison, and upon leaving has shown himself to be a completely rehabilitated, model citizen. He's funded medical research, particularly in the area of cancer, leading Forbes Magazine, in a 2004 article, to refer to Milken as "The Man Who Changed Medicine". A prostate cancer survivor, Milken has funded millions of dollars to raise awareness of the disease, and has partnered with Major League Baseball to further the effort. In addition to prostate cancer, Milken also has funded millions of dollars into skin cancer research as well.

Avoid farcical thinking

Additionally, Milken also created The Milken Institute, which over the last two decades, funded charitable foundations such as education, referenced in the Providence Journal article in question. Milken has funded scores of other charitable endeavors.

Milken is a perfect example of the folly that's entailed in dismissing an individual solely on the basis of past misdeeds. It would've been easy for people to assume that because Milken made some serious mistakes earlier in his career that he was a one-dimensional character who could only do wrong would have been wrongheaded. That kind of black and white thinking rejects the notion of redemption. It's like dismissing Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol offhand as being unrealistic.

Take a second, think about it

It doesn't take much pondering to recognize to the similarities between Milken and Cianci. Both men are undoubtedly talented individuals. Whereas Milken revolutionized the financial industry, Cianci brought about a renaissance in Providence that won the city national acclaim and gave the residents confidence.

The city moved rivers, created Water Fire which is now a regional attraction that boosts tourism, created the Providence Place Mall that brought retail  back to Providence, among scores of other initiatives. Also, every day city, services were reliable. 

Like Milken, Cianci may very well be able to use his talents to do more good and make up for his past infractions. That question is what Providence voters need to ponder as well as the strength of his vision, policies, and proposals, along with those of his two opponents.

But to dismiss Cianci's candidacy offhand as the Providence Journal's editorial board would suggest would be foolhardy at best. As Milken shows us, humans are complex characters who shouldn't be judged solely on their worst and lowest moments.

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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments. Find Russell J. Moore Twitter @russmoore713.


Related Slideshow: RI Politicians Who Sought Redemption from Misdeeds

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Vincent "Buddy" Cianci

As one of the longest-serving "big city" mayors in United States history, Rhode Island has experienced Cianci's ups and downs for over 21 years.

Now twice-convicted Cianci is once again back in RI's spotlight running as an Independent in the Providence Mayoral race.

Cianci was forced to resign as Mayor in 1984 after being indicted on assault charges.

In April 2001, Cianci was indicted on federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud.

He served four years in a federal prison.

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Michael Solomon

Providence City Council President and Democratic candidate for Mayor Michael Solomon is currently being investigated by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. 

Solomon failed to report a city loan for the Conrad Building on his annual ethics filings. 

Michael Long, the Providence Ward 1 Republican City Council Candidate, filed a complaint that charged Solomon with 25 violations of the disclosure requirements.

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Dominick Ruggerio

Dominick Ruggerio is the Democratic Majority Leader of the Rhode Island Senate.

A member of the Senate since 1985, he was elected Majority Leader on November 10, 2010, having won election to his 14th term in the Senate on November 2, 2010.

Ruggerio was arrested for shoplifting condoms in 1990. He was not prosecuted.

In 2012, Ruggerio was charged with a DUI.

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John Harwood

In 2002, Former Speaker of the House John Harwood faced unproven sexual misconduct charges.

The allegations brought against Harwood, but never proven, were that he had sex with Statehouse aide Wendy Collins.

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Frank Ciccone III

Democratic member of the Rhode Island Senate Frank Ciccone was arrested twice in the 1980's. He has represented District 7 since January 2005.

In 1981, Ciccone punched both a cab driver and passenger in Providence.

Just two years later, Ciccone was charged with possession of a loaded shotgun in a moving vehicle and for breaking a window in a bar.

Although Ciccone was found guilty of lesser charges for both these incidents, they were later expunged.

In 2012, Ciccone intervened when Ruggerio was stopped by police for drunk driving.

Ciccone lost committee chairmanship but is now running for re-election.

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Robert A. Watson

Robert Watson, a Republican member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and an attorney, was arrested twice for marijuana possession.

On Friday, April 22, 2011, Watson was stopped in East Haven, Connecticut at a police checkpoint. He was charged for both marijuana possession and a DUI.

Watson was arrested in South Kingston, RI for possession of marijuana on Jan 22, 2012. In his car were also three containers of alcohol.

Since 1992, Watson has represented the 30th District.

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John Carnevale

John M. Carnevale is a Democrat of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He has represented District 3 since January 2009.

Carnevale was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first- and second-degree sexual assault in October 2011.

His alleged victim died of a pulmonary embolism shortly after the indictment.

The charges were dropped by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who cited the inability to proceed with the case due to no longer having the woman's testimony.

In 2012, Carnevale ran unopposed for both the September 11, 2012 Democratic Primary, winning with 550 votes and the November 6, 2012 General election, winning with 2,901 votes.

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Gordon Fox

This past March, the State House office of Former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox was raided by the RI State Police in conjunction with FBI and IRS agents.

This marks the first time a State House office was ever raided by law enforcement officials.

Fox resigned from the Speakership effective March 22, 2014.

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Allan Fung

Republican candidate for Governor Allan Fung was involved in a fatal car accident in February of 1989 when he was an 18-year-old college student.

After losing consciousness at the wheel on I-95, Fung ran over and killed James W. Skipper, Jr. of Pawtucket.

A grand jury declined to indict him and his record was expunged.

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Jorge Elorza

A relative newcomer to politics, Providence mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza is running on a platform of ethics and transparency, but he’s had his brush with the law as well.

In a campaign letter Elorza admitted to being arrested for shoplifting as an 18-year-old.

He says he has since transformed his life, going from CCRI to a job on Wall Street, then to a profession in law. A former housing court judge, he resigned his position to run for Mayor.


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