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