Carty ’15: Tragedy, comedy and Buddy Cianci

Opinions Columnist
Thursday, October 23, 2014

After serving 22 years in the Providence mayor’s office, after two forced resignations, after one plea of “no contest” to an allegation of assault with a lit cigarette, after indictment in an FBI probe entitled “Operation Plunder Dome” and after five years in federal prison for racketeering, Buddy is back. With a big war chest and good poll numbers, Buddy Cianci is making another run at the Providence mayor’s office.

And you shouldn’t vote for him. Or endorse him. Or support him.

Here’s the story that Buddy, and his supporters, want you to buy: Providence, despite what her highfalutin neighbors in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York like to think, is a great American city. She’s got fantastic food, kind people and a culture all her own! Just go to Federal Hill or check out WaterFire, and you’ll see: This town is amazing.

And Buddy, just like you, loves this city. He’s from here, a Providence Italian, born and raised, and He Never Stopped Caring About Providence — that was his 1990 campaign slogan, after all. In fact, he put this town on the map. He uncovered the river, built the mall, developed the downtown and made us proud to be Providence residents. Sure, he got in trouble, but he was just a colorful, strong mayor. He did what needed to be done. All that he’s guilty of is being mayor of Providence — and a damned good one at that.

That’s the narrative, and Buddy is very, very good at telling it. It primes your love for the city. He seems comfortable, like a regular kind of guy. And it depends on that universal bit of common sense that, in politics, as in life, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

So, why not vote for him? Because Buddy has done a lot more than break a few eggs during his six terms as mayor. He brought a level of corruption to Providence that is utterly astonishing. And corruption, as a rule, ruins institutions. This is no small point. Cities are built by their public institutions, and the vice of corruption will eat them from the inside.

Consider the Providence school system, which, like the rest of the city, is financially underwater. Its students perform below average relative to those in the rest of the state. How could corruption ruin that? Well, Cianci’s administration ran on bribes, a good deal of which came from citizens who paid Cianci’s campaign committee in exchange for a break on their property taxes — taxes that primarily fund the Providence school system. Oh, and there was that time when the underfunded school district rented an auto body shop as a student registration center from a felon to the tune of a million dollars.

How about the police department? Personally, I have been robbed three times in this city and have dealt with a number of competent, professional and respectful cops. We shouldn’t take that skill for granted. It depends on successful testing and training, a relentless commitment to honesty on the job and the decision to consistently address the right issues. Well, during Buddy’s tenure, the loyal officers spied on Buddy’s political rivals, cheated on exams, stole drugs and property from evidence lockers and — literally — looked the other way when Buddy violently assaulted an alleged lover of his estranged wife with that famous cigarette.

Don’t forget the business community, a central institution to a city like Providence that desperately needs jobs and development. When Cianci was mayor, he harassed, extorted and threatened local businesses and restaurants. One could purchase a vacant property from the city through a donation to “Friends of Cianci” or even purchase a job as a city planner by paying to the same fund. Providence has a double-digit unemployment rate, an eroded tax base and a brain drain fueled by few jobs and amenities. Corruption is one of the easiest ways to repel the business and development the city needs to reverse these trends.

And the list goes on — trading patronage jobs for campaign donations, threatening violence against opponents and city workers, holding up building permits for retaliatory purposes. These are all things that Buddy and his administration are guilty of, and things they hope you will forget, ignore or somehow justify.

There is no reason to ignore or explain away these tactics, because they can destroy a city. Violence, bribery, extortion — these are not personal vices of a colorful man or the necessary methods of an effective mayor. They are public pathologies: the sort of behaviors that sap faith in public institutions and destroy the effectiveness of essential services.

The task of governing a declining, post-industrial city with high unemployment and poverty is not an easy task. It is slow, methodical, thoroughgoing work that requires innovative policy, relentless and effective administrators and an innate sense of fairness. Buddy Cianci, for all his humor, candor and color — because of his selfishness and dishonesty — is not capable of that work.

Just like Buddy, I love this city for its beauty, history, kindness and charm. And for that reason, because I love this town, because I believe it deserves the best, because I believe it can succeed, I refuse to support Buddy Cianci, and I urge you to do the same.


 Kevin Carty ’15 is a senior studying political theory. You can follow him @Politicarty.

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  1. There’s a lot of talk about extortion here, but it wasn’t Buddy who extorted $30 million from Brown.

  2. Buddy is an honest man. They set him up. He has done more for Providence than any mayor before or since. There is a reason the people of Providence love him.

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