Twice-convicted Providence ex-mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci made national news last Thursday by announcing he is again running for top job in Rhode Island’s capital city. Cianci, WPRO talk show host and subject of the book The Prince of Providence, is undoubtedly one of the most interesting figures in Rhode Island but has a long and sordid history with political scandal:
Cianci mounted his first campaign in 1974 and never lost a mayoral election. But he was forced to resign in 1984 after he was convicted of using a fireplace log and lit cigarette to assault a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife. Six years after that conviction, in 1990, he ran for mayor again and won. His second stint as mayor, known around town as Buddy II, came to an end in 2002 when he was convicted as part of a federal investigation into corruption in City Hall, called Operation Plunder Dome by the FBI. Several members of his administration were convicted. He spent 4 ½ years in federal prison.
While the state media has been largely critical of Cianci’s run (for all the obvious reasons), I will yet again sail against the tide of conventional wisdom and describe why Providence should – nay, must - elect Buddy Cianci in a last-ditch effort to maintain relevance.
In a previous entry, TNV examined Rhode Island’s long-trending decline under 80 years of Democratic rule, bankrolled and king-made by its infernal political machine of rent seekers, progressive interest groups, and organized labor. Months later, the state still leads the nation in unemployment at 8.3%, and Providence’s unemployment rate is even worse at 8.5%. Additional shame-worthy statistics are hashed out in the original post on the topic, but the short version is: if it’s an indicator of negative economic health, Rhode Island/Providence is likely to win, place, or show in the national rankings.
Even when the dealings in Providence aren’t overtly corrupt, burdensome regulations and demands that investors kiss the ring of local politicians for tax relief have solidified the city’s reputation of being extremely unfriendly toward business. Would-be developers now balk at the prospect of investing because jumping through political hoops is too much of a risk and a headache to seriously consider. In fact, a national survey has ranked Rhode Island dead last in friendliness toward small businesses for several years running.
Reputations are fragile things, to the extent where a single bad act can overshadow a lifetime of otherwise laudable behavior. Like the perpetually struggling economies of former Soviet-bloc states, Providence has, for all practical purposes, passed the point of no return. It has missed the mark so consistently and in so many respects, that it could take generations to fill in the hole it has dug before building something positive in the space would even be possible. In the face of such an intractable position, the only rational course of action is to keep digging in the hope of striking oil.
Providence should abandon the fools errand of rebranding itself – absent all-but-impossible political reforms – and follow the uber-successful sex-tape stars of reality television by leveraging its source of embarrassment into a cause celebre and tourism boon. Instead of electing yet another liberal Democrat to front-man for entrenched interests, electing Cianci would repave worn avenues by caricaturizing Providence as the incorrigible problem child of so many beloved television shows and movies. To this day, people are fascinated by Providence’s squalid history of crime and political corruption. Even before his renewed candidacy, Buddy Cianci was a hot topic of conversation for those who otherwise held little interest in the stopover city between New York and Boston.
Like it or not, corruption is Providence’s brand. It should start selling.