Politics, prison and pasta: the Buddy Cianci book tour

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Buddy Cianci once beat a man up with a log of firewood and an ash tray. Later, he went to jail for five years on charges of racketeering conspiracy. But the crowd at Café Milano in Georgetown on Tuesday night had nothing but smiles for the man, who was also the longest-serving mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and who is credited with cleaning up Providence and making it the vibrant city that it is today.

Cianci was in Washington, D.C. promoting his memoir,Politics and Pasta,” which tells the story of his time as mayor, his time in prison, and everything that happened along the way.

“I’ll be as short as I possibly can be, but that’s probably gonna be long,” the former mayor greeted the crowd of “Long Islanders in exile,” as Bill Shields, the vice president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, referred to them.

Cianci was the 32nd mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and also the 34th. The “two-timing mayor,” as someone once jokingly called him, resigned in 1984 after nine years in office, having pled guilty to assaulting a man he claimed was having an affair with his wife. Cianci hit the man with a lit cigarette, an ashtray, and a log of firewood.

He stepped down from his second term as mayor when he was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and sentenced to five years in jail.

“You know, I used to be mayor at one point. Then I kinda stopped being mayor, to be euphemistic, and then I became mayor again,” Cianci explained, to great laughter from the crowd.

The former mayor charmed the crowd with tales of being mayor, talking about the time Frank Sinatra called him and asked him to get his mother’s doctor’s son into Brown, even though he’d been rejected. The task was to be pulled off in between shows Sinatra was performing in Atlantic City.

“So I called the president of Brown, he wasn’t home, so I sent the cops out to find him,” Cianci said, drawing more raucous laughter at the veiled reference to the fact that Cianci reportedly sent the cops to find the man he thought was sleeping with his wife and bring him to the mayor, who then beat him with a log.

Cianci described a similar incident with two of his nephews who were applying to Brown the same year. One was accepted and one was not. Cianci went to talk to the president of the university, who agreed to put the kid on the wait list because Cianci was holding up the zoning permits for a project that Brown wanted to build: a hyperbolic parabaloid. After the meeting with the president of Brown, Cianci called up the zoning commissioner.

“You know that hyperbolic parabaloid?” he said. “Read my lips: put it on the waiting list.”

Cianci spoke for about twenty minutes, sharing stories of his time as mayor and joking about his time spent in prison.

“We’re Rhode Islanders so we can tell you: everything he’s saying is true,” someone in the crowd assured me.

Now, Cianci is on a book tour and hosts a radio show. He also sells his personal brand of marinara sauce: Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce, or MOMS. All the proceeds go to a scholarship fund.

In attendance were Thomas Quinn, a partner at Venable LLC; AOL founder Jim Kimsey; Bill Shields, the vice president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and an old friend of Cianci’s; former Providence Mayor Joe Paolino, who succeeded Cianci after his first term in office; Greta Kreuz, a reporter for ABC; Elizabeth Leamy of “Good Morning America”; talk radio host Chris Plante; and senior editor of The Cook Political Report Jennifer Duffy, who is a Rhode Island native.