Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, former mayor of Providence, passed away last week, leaving many people feeling conflicted. Cianci was an important community figure and arguably a good mayor; he was also a felon convicted of several different crimes. This raises the moral question of how exactly we are supposed to remember him — do we gloss over the bad stuff and honor his accomplishments? Or do we let his wrongdoings tarnish the memory of his mayoral achievements?
Cianci was mayor of Providence on and off from 1974 to 2002. He has been credited with reviving Providence in many ways, most notably economically. He spearheaded the establishment of Providence Place Mall and the creation of WaterFire, Providence’s most visible cultural event. His success as mayor was reflected in his recurring reelection. Even despite his first forced resignation in 1984, he was brought back to office. It seemed most voters in Providence believed Buddy Cianci was a good mayor. In many ways, he improved overall quality of life in Providence. And yet …
While Cianci helped build a more pleasant Providence, he also created a more corrupt Providence. In 2001, he and a number of other city employees were indicted on several criminal charges, including various instances of fraud and bribery. Out of the 27 charges filed against him, he was found guilty of one and was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Once his probation had ended, five years after his release from prison, Cianci was once again able to run for reelection, but by this point the tides had shifted. His fall from public favor was reflected in a 2014 loss to incumbent Mayor Jorge Elorza, who defeated Cianci as the former mayor battled a record of corruption and several rape allegations. During that election, many Providence residents expressed their distrust in him, despite his claims that he had changed his ways.
Those who knew Cianci described him as charismatic and passionate about Providence. He poured a lot of effort and heart into this city, but does that matter if his methods of doing so were questionable? He made several important advances during his mayoral runs, but did his faults outweigh his strengths?
Ultimately, we should strive to think of Cianci in death the way we thought of him in life. If two weeks ago, your first thought about him concerned crimes and corruption, that’s the way it should stay. Likewise, if you mostly thought of him as a good mayor, you should remember him as such. We have a tendency to romanticize people once they leave us, but that’s not necessarily the best course of action. The reality is that Cianci was a complicated man with a hearty dose of both positive and negative qualities. It’s okay to remember both.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Emma Axelrod ’18 and Emma Jerzyk ’17, and its members, Eben Blake ’17, Aranshi Kumar ’17 and Leeron Lempel ’19. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.