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The many faces of Buddy
The Prince of Providence depicts Cianci in all of his remarkable contradiction

THE INFORMATION filters its way back in dribs and drabs ó heís lost weight, heís learning Spanish, heís working in the kitchen.

But mostly, Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr., the former mayor and maximum ruler of Providence, is leading a remarkably different life and keeping an uncharacteristically low profile, seven months into a 64-month sentence in the federal prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Convicted in June 2002 of a single count of racketeering conspiracy by a US District Court jury, Cianci has maintained his innocence. Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, recently filed a brief calling on the US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold his conviction. Oral arguments in the case could begin this fall.

In the interim, the newly published 444-page biography by Providence Journal reporter Mike Stanton, The Prince of Providence: The True Story of Buddy Cianci, Americaís Most Notorious Mayor, Some Wiseguys, and the Feds, offers an unvarnished look at the life and times of Rhode Islandís rascal king. The Phoenix asked several longtime Cianci-watchers and one of his former top staffers to share their thoughts about the book. Our coverage also includes an interview with Stanton.

JEKYLL AND HYDE

By Jack White

THE UNAUTHORIZED biography of Buddy Cianci raises the perplexing question ó why was he so brutally abusive to so many people?

He was fond of Machiavelliís dictum: "Itís better to be feared than loved."

There also was the Ciancism about getting and keeping power: "Marry your enemies and fuck your friends."

But there was a flip side. He genuinely cared about some people and treated them well. His longtime executive secretary Linda Verhulst said Cianci couldnít "say no to little kids."

As many people know, there were two Buddys ó the good Buddy and the bad Buddy.

According to Mike Stantonís book, The Prince of Providence, former girlfriend Wendy Materna once asked Cianci how he could be so kind and loving, and yet act so horribly. "Then it hit her," Stanton writes. " ĎWhat happened with your father?í she asked. Cianci burst into tears." He didnít answer her question. Instead, he talked about the last time he saw his father, when Buddy shipped out to the Army in 1967. His father died shortly thereafter.

So what drove Buddy Cianci? He was a perfectionist who demanded complete loyalty and ridiculed those who didnít meet his expectations.

As a youngster, his mother dressed him in Buster Brown suits, bow ties and white buck shoes. Neighborhood kids made fun of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and resented that he had an in-ground swimming pool.

Stanton writes Cianci was raised in a household "of doting women ó mother, sister, grandmother, aunts and cousins." His father, Dr. Vincent Albert Cianci, a proctologist who reportedly cheated on his wife, thought Buddy was spoiled and lacked discipline.

When nine-year-old Cianci was enrolled in the exclusive Moses Brown prep school on Providenceís East Side, he was not the only Italian-American student, but he was nonetheless an outsider who had to keep proving himself.

Dr. Cianci wanted his son to be a doctor. Buddy went to law school instead. He was a natural for the rough and tumble of Providence politics.

It is not precisely clear when Cianci fully embraced the Machiavellian philosophy that "the prince" is not bound by ethical considerations, that a ruler should only be concerned about power and achieving political goals.

Federal prosecutors said that philosophy led to corruption. Cianci called it getting results.

To maintain power, Cianci turned friends into enemies, and enemies into friends and all felt the sting of his vindictive wrath. He kept many of them suspended like insects in the spider web of city jobs that he doled out to ensure loyalty.

And Cianci responded with the full force of his mayoral powers when he felt slighted. One night he and three guests were stopped from entering a crowded, popular restaurant by the new bouncer who did not recognize him.

"A short time later," Stanton writes. "The city fire marshal pulled up in a big red van, accompanied by a fire truck, its lights flashing."

The restaurant was shut down for alleged overcrowding, its entertainment license was later suspended, and Cianci threatened the owner that he might be arrested on a false charge of selling drugs.

But Cianci actually became a prisoner in the city he so loved.

In the second grade, he proclaimed that one day he would be president of the United States. His goal as an adult was more modest ó vice president or US senator.

But while in his first term as mayor in 1976 he passed on the chance to challenge former governor John Chafee in a Republican primary for the Senate. And when he ran for governor in 1980 against incumbent Democrat J. Joseph Garrahy, he lost every city and town in the state and every ward in Providence.

Cianci couldnít get out of Providence, so he tried to make it his personal fiefdom. And he made the rules as he went along.

US District Court Judge Ernest Torres, who sentenced Cianci to five years and four months in federal prison, drew the natural parallel to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. "There appear to be two very different Buddy Ciancis," Torres said. "The first Buddy Cianci is a skilled, charismatic political figure . . . Then thereís the Buddy Cianci . . . who was mayor of an administration that was corrupt at all levels."

"The judge cut me some slack," Stanton quotes Cianci as telling filmmaker Michael Corrente.

"I heard," replied Corrente.

"But that cocksucker called me Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Cianci continued. "How come I didnít get two fucking paychecks?"

Cianci did get two chances, however, at being mayor of Providence. He blew it both times.

Jack White is an investigative reporter for WPRI-TV/Channel 12.

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

By Ian Donnis

IN THE MINIATURIZED place that is Rhode Island, few things donít overlap.

And when it came to the stirring ascents and stunning falls of Buddy Cianci ó whose rise coincided with the decline of the fearsome mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca ó there was a striking degree of intersection.

The two faced off in 1972 when Cianci helped to prosecute Patriarca, "the man known in the underworld as Ďthe Mayor of Providence,í " as Mike Stanton writes in his book, on a charge of accessory to the 1968 murder of a bookie and his bodyguard in Silver Lake. Patriarca, who presided over organized crime in New England from his Coin-O-Matic office on Atwells Avenue, was acquitted. But Cianci, acting on a hunch, raced ahead of gangsters to Maryland to prove false an alibi provided for the mob boss by a childhood friend-turned-priest, thereby making his reputation as an aggressive prosecutor.

La Cosa Nostra evolved in America as a kind of alternative government for poor Italian immigrants in the early 20th-century ó a time in Rhode Island when "the Yankee ruling class controlled the government through a corrupt political machine that bought rural Republican votes." Stanton quotes one early Italian activist as saying, "What has the immigrant really learned in America? Justice here encourages lawlessness and corrupts the son of honest peasants."

Still, by 1973, Cianci, the son of a doctor, seemed in many ways to embody the promise of the American dream. And Cianci made the most of it when a graft case ó rock promoter Skip Chernovís claim to prosecutors that the director of the Civic Center was shaking him down ó provided the basis for his successful 1974 campaign as the anti-corruption candidate. By the end of the decade, Buddy had consolidated his hold as the new power in Providence. As Stanton writes, "When Sinatra wanted help getting a friendís child into Brown University, the Chairman of the Board turned to Cianci, not Patriarca."

Yet Cianci was also willing to disparage Senator John O. Pastore, the first Italian-American in the US Senate, who strived to be an example of probity because of his place as an ethnic pioneer, when it seemed politically opportune. And despite the mayorís intelligence, imagination, and other gifts, it didnít take long, as depicted in The Prince of Providence, before Cianci surrounded himself with a cast of unsavory characters and placed a premium on loyalty over all else.

The harrowing 1983 assault that Cianci visited upon Raymond DeLeo, who the mayor suspected of having an affair with his wife, remains the signature example of his belligerence, and it forced the end of his first tenure. Cianciís carriage house on Power Street was subsequently dubbed "the Crime Castle." And when the mayor became a popular talk-show host on WHJJ-AM, one of his frequent callers was Patriarcaís son, Raymond "Junior" Patriarca, whose identity remained veiled behind the radio moniker "Ray from Lincoln."

The comeback scored by Cianci in 1990, as the Wall Street Journal said, "Would be the envy of Richard Nixon." In spite of this, some of the hallmarks of Buddyís first tenure soon reappeared, even as he began leading Providence toward heightened self-esteem and national recognition as the Renaissance City. After regaining office, for example, Cianci called his department directors, holdovers from the Paolino administration, to a meeting. According to Stanton, Cianci told them that their survival depended on their loyalty to him. "I just want you to know Iím the fucking mayor," he said. "Iím going to be examining every fucking resume and looking at all you fucking people."

The appropriation of mob values could be seen in the status afforded those who wouldnít cooperate with the feds ó an odd kind of alternate image of an American archetype, the stoic Western cowboy. As Frank Corrente had said during an earlier investigation of a city employee, "I donít care if I have to go to jail ó as long as it says on my gravestone, ĎHe was a stand-up guy.í " It was little surprise, perhaps, that Corrente became one of Cianciís most-trusted lieutenants, refusing to cooperate with Plunder Dome investigators in the face of a prison sentence.

Similarly, Michael Dunham, the School Departmentís finance director, testified during Cianciís trial that he initially lied to investigators about Correnteís involvement since he feared for his job. Alan Sepe, the acting property director, also acknowledged lying to investigators about Corrente, because, "I wanted to be a stand-up person ó I didnít want to be a rat."

In the time before his trial, there was more than a little irony in Cianci bitterly denouncing The Sopranos as an inaccurate and prejudicial depiction of Italian-Americans. The mayor was prosecuted, after all, with the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute ó the very law designed in the í60s, as Stanton notes, to help the federal government pursue people like Raymond L.S. Patriarca.

Ian Donnis is news editor of the Phoenix.

 

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Issue Date: August 1 - 7, 2003
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