Russell Moore: The Summer of Buddy

Monday, June 30, 2014


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And just like that, R.I. politics got interesting again.

Let's face it: up until that dramatic moment last Wednesday afternoon when the notorious, provocative, and what's best, never boring Vincent "Buddy" Cianci announced on his radio show that he was, in fact, running for Mayor of Providence, the high profile races this election season were pretty dull.

The Democratic candidates for Governor seem to agree with one another on everything. The Democratic candidates for Providence Mayor argue with one another about which one loves and is loved most by Angel Taveras. With the exception of the Republican candidates for Governor, there wasn't much interesting stuff going on at the top of the ticket.

Once more into the breach

And then Cianci dramatically seized the stage yet again. As is his custom, Cianci shocked the world at the very last possible moment before the filing deadline by announcing that, love it or hate it or hate it, he's once again seeking Providence's top job.

People can say they knew whether Cianci would run again, but the reality is only Cianci's closest confidantes knew what he'd be doing right up until those very last minutes. Like just about everything else Cianci has ever done, he got the maximum public relations return on investment for his decision.

Don't expect that trend to end. Cianci, a Rhode Island icon, will continue to dominate the news right up until at least the November election. Say what you want, and folks will say plenty, but Cianci is undeniably the most charismatic candidate running for office in Rhode Island this election season. He's witty. And controversy follows him like a shadow. 

Charisma. Controversy. Wit.

That's the trifecta as far as the press is concerned. Cianci sells newspapers, increases television and radio ratings, and drives page views. The news business is a business, so expect to hear about Buddy's every move from here on through November. It's safe to say that the folks in media are the happiest with respect to Buddy's decision.

The question becomes, will all the coverage help, or hurt Cianci? If P.T. Barnum was correct, and there's "no such thing as bad publicity", than Cianci will ultimately cruise to victory. 

Without doubt, there are people who say that Providence flourished under his leadership. Should they have their way, Cianci will see his third stint in city hall. There's also a question of standards, which seem to have been lowered since Cianci left office. If I had a dime for every time I've heard someone say "at least Cianci could fix potholes," I'd be able to eat calamari every night.

Yet if Cianci's harshest critics are correct, and he's seen as nothing more than an old school backroom politician, he'll lose.

Like anything else, the truth about Cianci is probably somewhere in between the two viewpoints. On one hand, there's something more than disconcerting about voting for a twice-convicted felon who was once convicted for public corruption. 

Cianci, however, has often argued that his larger-than-life persona was what made him a target by federal investigators and what he was convicted of could convict just about any government official in America. There's almost certainly some truth to that notion. But it doesn't make it right either.

Good Buddy? Bad Buddy?

On the other hand, and Cianci will undoubtedly point this out, Providence seems like Paris when compared to similar sized cities like Worcester, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; or Hartford, Connecticut, thanks to the initiatives his administration put forward in the nineties. Those initiatives include, but are not limited to the Providence Place Mall, the Convention Center, and the ice skating rink across from city hall.

Mayoral candidate Brett Smiley, an out-of-towner up until 2006, in an attempt to portray himself as the anti-Buddy candidate, has argued that when Cianci was in power, you needed to know a guy to obtain a job or get something done with the city. First of all, it's uncertain as to how he could know this seeing as he was living somewhere else in those days.

Secondly, Smiley knows a thing or two about knowing a guy himself. He worked as the city's lobbyist for several years up until last year. He got this $3,000 a month part-time job not because he was friends with former Mayors David Cicilline and current Mayor Angel Taveras. That's pretty shameless even by political standards. (He was even paid when the legislature wasn't in session!)

A question of perspective

In the end, it really won't matter what the opposing candidates like Smiley say. The election will come down to  whether voters think Cianci lifted the spirits of the city and left it a better place than he found it during his previous tenures, and if he can do it again. 

Don't expect me to predict the outcome. Predicting what voters in Rhode Island will do is about as easy as running a marathon with a hangover.

Regardless of what voters decide, one thing's for certain, we're in for a rollicking political season. That alone is worth the price of Buddy's entrance.

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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.


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