Buddy Cianci

RIP, Providence's circus barker

I only enjoyed former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci's showmanship when he was out of office and could do little damage. His corrupt, egomaniacal, chaotic and sometimes vengeful mayoralty was a triumph of cult-of-personality circus acts over good government.

His death today is a certain rite of passage for a city with a complicated  and sometimes infantile relationship with him over more than four decades.

Providence has a lot going for it in history, location, educational and other institutions and a rich mix of ethnic cultures. As many American cities started a comeback in the '80s, Providence could have done much better if it had had a competent and .honest mayor instead of what it got  from Mr. Cianci. As Fiorello LaGuardia and Ed Koch proved in New York, it's possible to be "colorful'' and honest and competent.

The corruption of Mr. Cianci's regime drove businesses out of the city and discouraged others (most infamously Pfizer) from setting up shop in it.  His astonishingly irresponsible sweetheart-deal labor contracts  have also been devastating and have often put the city in the edge of bankruptcy.

So many Providence voters displayed insularity, ignorance and wishful thinking when it came to their "Rogue King'' that it recalls Mencken's line about democracy being the system under which "the people get what they want, good and hard''.

The standards and expectations of too many voters in Providence were so low that they enabled a man who did considerably more harm than good for the city, whatever Buddy's impressive ability to take the credit for so many good things he didn't do for the city.

As it was, some good stuff happened here,  but much of it in spite of rather than because of Buddy Cianci, for whom public life was all about personal power and drawing the maximum attention to himself: "Look at me, look at me, look at me!''

But I'll miss his classic Northeast mayor wisecracks (though I hear similar stuff from pols in other cities I've lived and worked). And his unwillingness ever to give up had a certain grandeur, I suppose. I chatted with him a few weeks ago and he seemed  eager  to perform for years to come. He was very friendly, and for a few moments I liked him, as I had liked him occasionally before in the almost 40 years I'd known him, in a sort of clinical way.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Providence needs this psychiatrist

I'm glad that psychiatrist Dan Harrop is staying in the nationally entertaining Providence mayoral race. For one thing, the Republican/conservative position deserves a voice.

For another, he is right that the best thing for the city's finances would be for it to go into receivership and start all over with a cleaner deck, cleansed of assorted dubious contracts.

For another, having a psychiatrist in the race is necessary in a city where at last count  38 percent of those polled said they favored Buddy Cianci as mayor. An historian would  also have been handy  in the race to  help address the mass amnesia about who did what to and for the city during the Cianci years in City Hall.

(I remember fondly Oscar Levant's superb book The Memoirs of an Amnesiac.)

Finally, Dr. Harrop should stay in because he is so funny and good-humored. He reminds me of  conservative writer, editor and talk-show host William F. Buckley Jr., who, while running for mayor of New York in 1965, was asked what he would do if he were  actually elected.

He famously responded:

"Demand a recount.''

--- Robert Whitcomb

Chief Ricci's suicide and other Cianci regime history

"Fragile Remains'' (collagraph and trace monotype print), by JOAN HAUSRATH, at the Art Complex Museum, Duxbury, Mass.
For new arrivals in Providence, and citizens with amnesia: Note  this excerpt of  an April 25, 2007 article by Bill Rodriguez in the Phoenix:
''Now that Buddy Cianci’s scheduled July 27 prison release date is approaching, Providence documentary filmmaker Cherry Arnold is getting around to a theatrical release of Buddy, following a successful victory lap on the film festival circuit....''

“'During the screenings outside of RI, in New York for instance, there were more gasps and audible reactions where people who didn’t know Buddy’s story were, I think, shocked by some of what happens, like the police chief [Robert E. Ricci] committing suicide [in 1978] and the assault details,' she notes. “'Outside of RI, lots of people ask during the Q&A why he was able to run for mayor again as a convicted felon. They’re very curious about that.”'

Then there are the sweetheart pension deals  and running City Hall as a criminal operation. But, hey!, nobody's perfect! The heavy price of statesmanship!

As H.L. Mencken's line goes:

''Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.''