Buddy Cianci is a fighter. As the longest-serving mayor of Providence, R.I., he defied the city’s deteriorating neighborhoods, faltering economy and changing demographics to revitalize it into the state’s thriving capital.
But Providence’s late 70s-era depression wasn’t the only thing Cianci’s battled – he has been convicted of both assault and racketeering conspiracy. Both run-ins with the law left serious asterisks on his mayoral legacy.
In his new memoir, “Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale,” Cianci recounts his adventures as an Italian-American Rhode Islander.
In 1974, in the wake of the Watergate Scandal, Cianci braved the stigma of the Republican Party – he compared running as a Republican to being the Ayatollah Khomeini – and ran for mayor of Providence as a member of the GOP.
He won the election, but he quickly learned revitalizing the city was a mostly non-partisan affair.
“There’s no Republican way to pick up snow,” Cianci said. “There’s no Democratic way to plant trees.”
As mayor, Cianci said he first focused on strengthening the city’s struggling infrastructure. Then, he said, in the second phase of his time as mayor, he took more risks.
He led the city in moving railroad tracks, building tunnels and relocating rivers to open up land for development and take advantage of the city’s Crawford Street Bridge, the widest bridge in the world, he said.
“You had to be creative, and you had to be extremely innovative,” Cianci said. “You had to take risks.”
He also focused on reinvigorating the town through its arts community and historic preservation of buildings.
“I always thought that the future of our city had a lot to do with its past,” he said.
After a stint in federal prison and a few years working as a radio and television personality, will Cianci run for office again?
“Hey, I never say never,” he said. “It could interest me.”
Check out the full conversation on my podcast.