Cianci leaves complicated legacy behind

Former mayor remembered for checkered past, service to city, over 20 years in public office

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2016

Vincent “Buddy” Cianci died Jan. 28 at the age of 74. He was Providence’s longest-serving mayor, known for his larger-than-life personality.

Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr., lawyer, radio host and Providence’s longest-serving mayor died Jan. 28 at the age of 74, leaving behind a memorable legacy that has incalculably affected the city and its residents.

Cianci was mayor of Providence first between 1975 and 1984 and then between 1991 and 2002: a total of 21 years. Before his mayoral career he served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve between 1966 and 1972, eventually becoming a prosecutor and attorney. At the time of his passing, Cianci was engaged to his fiancee, Tara Marie Haywood, for just over a month.

Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a Jan. 28 press release that flags at City Hall will be flown at half-staff while “we make arrangements to recognize his memory.” Gov. Gina Raimondo said the state flag would be similarly flown — a reversal of her previous decision not to honor the late mayor in this fashion, WPRI reported  Jan. 29.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, offered his condolences to Cianci’s family in an email to The Herald, writing, “my sympathies go out to the Cianci family, and I wish them the best in this difficult time.”

Elorza, who notably defeated Cianci in his 2014 bid for mayor, also offered his condolences in his Jan. 28 press release, stating, “Cianci’s love for the city of Providence is undeniable, and his mark on the city will not be forgotten.”

Though a mark he will certainly leave, its nature and effect are debatable, especially considering Cianci’s checkered history. Cianci was forced to resign from office in 1984 after an alleged altercation with a Bristol contractor he accused of having an affair with his then wife. He was again ousted in 2002 following a conviction of racketeering with a sentence of five years in federal prison.

The humor of his rise and fall was lost least on Cianci, who quipped in his memoir, “I spent almost three decades as mayor of Providence … before leaving for an enforced vacation in a federally funded, gated community.”

A fellow law school student also accused Cianci of raping her at gunpoint in 1966, and an investigator called it the “most clear-cut case of rape” he had ever seen.

Despite his infractions, Cianci is still revered in the community, and his offenses are often overlooked in favor of his record as Providence’s longest-serving mayor who presided over a period of great economic revitalization.

During his tenure as mayor, Cianci accomplished a number of impressive feats, notably facilitating the construction of the Providence Place Mall, the creation of the Providence Bruins and the birth of WaterFire on Providence’s refurbished waterways.

“Everybody will look at him when they think of how Providence was transformed,” said Joseph Paolino Jr., former mayor of Providence and chair of the City Council during Cianci’s tenure. “When they think of the Providence renaissance, they’ll think of Buddy Cianci.”

Paolino also said that though their relationship was initially adversarial, he eventually came to be a close friend of Cianci’s and had a number of fond memories of the late mayor, including talking to him almost daily about politics and seeing him ride to Brown football games on a horse.

Though it’s difficult to sum up Cianci in a few words, his former Chief of Staff Artin Coloian comes perhaps the closest.

“Cianci is many things to many people — a brilliant urban planner to some, a tough guy to others,” Coloian said, adding that “he was a resilient personality, a smart politician, a controversial individual on some occasions and often a warm, caring person.”

Coloian noted that even “his fiercest adversaries respected his quip, intelligence and determination to take on any and all challenges in his way.” He added that “his family, as sad as they are, can take solace in the fact that his legacy lives on.”

Cianci’s coffin will lie in front of City Hall Saturday and Sunday, and his funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. As per Raimondo’s order, state flags will be lowered during the time of his funeral.