Thursday, January 28, 2016
Buddy Cianci, long-time mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, has died. He had a storied career: twice convicted of federal charges, served time, but the people of Providence loved him nevertheless in no small part because he reinvented the city on his watch.
I saw this first hand. When I first visited Brown University in 1992, there were highways that criss-crossed downtown. The campus was literally cut-off from the rest of the city by those highways. I had no idea there was even a river that ran through the city. I matriculated to Brown in 1993 and was there during the period when highways were re-routed out of the city, when rivers were uncovered, and when beautiful promenades were installed at the city's core. In trips back since, I marvel at how far Providence has come, and how it came so far under the leadership of a mayor that was almost certainly on the take most of the time.
But people didn't just love Buddy because he re-built Providence. He had a common touch you seldom see. The story I still remember most about him was one I recall reading while I was at Brown in the Nineties. Tucked into the middle of the Providence Journal was a story about how Buddy was on a way to a wedding. Somehow he got word that there was a person threatening to commit suicide by jumping from a building on Federal Hill. Buddy told his driver to head there immediately. When they got there, Buddy bought a six pack of beer and asked the man on the roof if Buddy could come up and have a beer with him. Buddy went up there and shared the six-pack with the guy over the course of a couple hours. As I recall the story, Buddy convinced the guy to come down and then, moreover, Buddy drove with the man to the hospital. That story always stuck in my mind, though it wasn't unusual. Buddy was always doing something like that, which lent him a charm and earned the gratitude of his constituents, even though everyone seemed to suspect, even long before the feds came calling for him, that things weren't exactly right with the public fisc.
He also had the best spaghetti sauce of any mayor I've known. With Buddy, you took the good and the bad, and he gave both in epic abundance.