Has the mayor of Providence finally gone too far?
Bad days for Buddy
THE citizens of Providence, Rhode Island never thought their mayor was a choirboy. After all, Vincent Cianci — “Buddy” to all the world — was convicted in 1984 of kidnapping his then wife’s alleged lover and torturing him with lit cigarettes. But he was re-elected anyway, and is now the longest-serving big-city mayor in America.
He owes his success to his considerable charm and enough old-time political razzle-dazzle to make Bill Clinton look shy. On his permanent campaign, Mr Cianci kisses anything that moves: not just babies, but baby pigs. He even sells a spaghetti sauce (“Mayor’s Own”) to raise money for charity and to put his face in supermarkets all over town.
That charm is now being tested once again. On April 23rd Mr Cianci and several of his aides went on trial in federal court on charges of graft, extortion and racketeering. The FBI’s investigation turned up over $1.5m in bribes for city contracts and favours. The mayor’s take allegedly included $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions from tow-away companies, and free lifetime honorary membership of the exclusive University Club (which had once rejected his application) in exchange for permission to build new squash courts.
It is hard for locals to turn their backs on Mr Cianci. He had helped turn Providence from a rusting textile town into one of the most pleasant cities in the north-east. It may not be “the San Francisco of New England”, as its boosters claim, but Mr Cianci has cut crime and brought back both businesses and culture into the redeveloped centre of town.
Besides, this state, once nicknamed “Rogues’ Island”, has a long history of tolerance towards nonconformists and troublemakers. Its founder, Roger Williams, was hounded out of Puritan Massachusetts for his radical religious beliefs. But some bad behaviour is harder to take. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the city became a centre of Mafia activity and corruption reached as high as the state Supreme Court. Many had hoped, or pretended, that the bad old days were past. Now a jury may force the city to face facts.