We originally posted this look at the amazing career of former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci over the summer. But with a new Providence Journal poll showing Cianci, who is running as an independent, in the lead to reclaim his old job, it's worth revisiting.
Vincent Albert 'Buddy' Cianci announced Thursday that he is running for mayor in Providence, Rhode Island again this year. The "P. T. Barnum of Providence" has already served six terms as mayor during two separate stints, both of which ended prematurely after convictions. He has never lost a mayoral election -- although he did fail to become governor in 1980. He was mayor a total of 21 years -- longer than anyone who preceded him.
He also sells his own brand of pasta sauce. He is the most interesting politician in Rhode Island.
Here are some liner notes to Cianci's absurdly fascinating career.
The first night of Cianci's first term as mayor of Providence, monkeys escaped from the zoo.
The police station called Cianci, a former prosecutor and the youngest mayor of Providence ever, for advice. “Do what you normally do,” he told them. “What do I know about how monkeys escape from the zoo?”
Cianci resigned in 1984 after burning the eyelids of his wife's alleged lover with a cigarette.
He also launched an ashtray at him. And a fireplace log. And poured liquor on him. Crime reports say he held the man -- a former friend -- hostage for three hours while a police officer and former judge watched. Cianci disputes this. He told the New York Times last year,
There was no kidnapping; he was free to go. No. 1, I picked the log up and threw it in the fireplace. He said he thought I was going to throw it at him. The prosecutor said that was putting him in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm, so that’s assault. As far as ashtrays and all these myths, that’s all bull. No. 2, no one ever urinated on anybody.
Wait, what? Who mentioned urinating?
Cianci had been mayor since 1974 -- the first Republican mayor in Providence since the Great Depression -- and during his tenure he pushed for a municipal rule prohibiting convicted felons from running for office; he was hoping to remove some of his enemies from City Council.
Cianci did not go to jail for that incident, and went on to be a local radio host and television commentator.
On the day he resigned, he was greeted with cheers from outside the mayor's office from his many supporters. They told him he'd be back.
He gave the keynote speech at the 1976 Republican National Convention...
... but left the party soon after, despite being courted with vice-presidential nomination whispers. As Ciro Scotti wrote in his review of "The Prince of Providence," a book about Cianci's career, being a Rhode Island Republican "is like being a Methodist at the Mormon Tabernacle."
(Cianci is running as an independent in his latest mayoral bid.)
He ran for mayor again in 1990 and won. He served until 2002, when he was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
Cianci says it wasn't that bad. Prison, that is. He read almost 500 books.
His slogan during the 1990 campaign -- he announced he was running 17 minutes before the deadline -- was, "He never stopped caring about Providence."
He only won by 317 votes as his two opponents split the vote. No one even bothered running against him in 1998.
Cianci's second stop in the mayor's office coincided with the city's debut as a cultural hub. A 2003 musical that premiered at that year's International Fringe Festival called "'Buddy' Cianci: The Musical" explained this story better than we ever could. It is a ''modern gangster musical in neo-swing style'' about ''the man who turned Providence from the armpit of New England to the Renaissance City.'' The better musical numbers in the show were "The Armpit of New England," "It’s the Money That Counts" and "The Ass You Have to Kiss Today."
Cianci would tour the transformed city in his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. The license plate read "1." He became the honorary coach of "Nads Nation," the Rhode Island School of Design's club hockey team. As Cianci told Dan Barry in 2000, ''Go Nads. 'Heh-heh.''
And then Operation Plunder Dome happened. It was a FBI investigation into Providence City Hall and Cianci's management of it, which began in 1999. In 2001, he was indicted on federal charges of racketeering, bribery, extortion, and witness intimidation. Finding people to serve on the jury who didn't have some relationship to Cianci -- the mayor had attended one potential juror's 25th wedding anniversary (He didn't know who had invited Cianci) was a challenge. One witness during the trial recalled a moment when Cianci offered the now-immortal threat, “Be careful of the toe that you step on today, because it may be connected to an ass that you have to kiss tomorrow." (Hence the song title mentioned above.)
In the end, the feds couldn't prove that Cianci had taken part in any of the kickbacks and bribes that were happening in city government, but they found him guilty of one RICO charge -- usually given to crime bosses who manage to orchestrate operations while keeping their hands clean. In his memoir, Cianci quotes Rhode Island state Rep. Steven Smith's summation of the case, “They found him guilty of nothing but responsible for everything.” One of the prosecutors would say that the case revolved around "a scheme to defraud the citizens of Providence of the intangible value of honest public service."
During Cianci's trial, the Rhode Island Citizens for Ethical Government created a Web site -- www.BuddyCianci.com -- calling for the mayor to resign. Besides linking to the mayor's 97-page federal indictment, the Web site also had a contest with a prize of $50 for the best student essay on topics like, "How Buddy Cianci Can Be Lawfully Removed From Office."
That did not make the mayor happy, and he began railing against the site's creator, Harold Meyer III. "When people switch to the BuddyCianci.com site, they're being misled. He's trading off my name. The next thing you know, he'll be selling pens and buttons and T-shirts. He might even try to sell a marinara sauce."
Despite the rage, Cianci was sure to end his seething soliloquy with a hammy grace note. "But with a name like Hal Meyer, I don't think his marinara sauce will be as good."
Cianci was sentenced to five years in prison, and released in May 2007.
Cianci is well-known for his toupee collection. He calls one of his trustiest hairpieces, "the squirrel."
When he went to federal prison in 2002, they made him take off the toupee. He decided he was better off without it. He told New York Times Magazine in 2013, "I enjoy life without the squirrel. I get a haircut maybe once every couple of weeks, and that’s all I have to worry about." He will also not be bringing the squirrel back on the campaign trail this year. "The squirrel is history."
In 1996, Rhode Island Monthly reported that Cianci topped a list of people Rhode Island women wanted to date.
Even though he looks "like a crook."
If you press a button on his website, Buddy Cianci will appear.
However, there is a risk that it will be the poorly Photoshopped version of Buddy Cianci.
He has his own marinara sauce brand.
His memoir is titled, "Politics and Pasta." According to Molly Ball's review of the book, it includes a "brutal description of a young Lincoln Chafee, now the state's governor, as unqualified to work as a garbage collector, as well as unflattering cameos from the likes of Jesse Jackson and John F. Kennedy Jr. There's the time he refused to cooperate with the HBO series The Sopranos, because he felt the show glorified negative Italian-American stereotypes."
He contributed to New York Times Magazine's One-Page Magazine in October 2012
Unfortunately, he did not get to guest-write the Meh List.
And now, he's running again.
And, again, he announced minutes before the deadline. After leaving prison, Cianci resumed the same post-conviction lifestyle he led in 1984. He had a radio show, and offered television news commentary. He is currently being treated for cancer, but doctors have cleared his candidacy.
The New York Times asked a local political scientist about his odds. She said that Providence is "much more Latino, younger, and a lot of the people who loved him and voted for him before don’t live here anymore. And with a Latino running for governor and another one for mayor, that base will be energized." Politics in Providence have changed over the past decade too.
On the other hand, "If Newt Gingrich is still around, and Bill Clinton is still around, there’s no reason Buddy Cianci can’t still be around.”
In 2003, after Cianci was already in jail, one resident told a reporter, ''He's a crook. but I'd vote for him again.'"