PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., who presided over the renaissance of Rhode Island’s capital city but twice was forced from City Hall following felony convictions, has died. He was 74.
Cianci’s death was confirmed by Artin Coloian.
Cianci was first elected mayor in 1974, becoming the first Republican to lead Providence in 34 years when he stunned Democrat Joseph Doorley. The city’s first Italian-American mayor, Cianci quickly became a national star in Republican circles, delivering a prime-time speech during the 1976 Republican National Convention.
During his first tenure as mayor, which included successful re-election bids in 1978 and 1982 as well as a losing campaign for governor in 1980, Cianci was credited with renovating the Roger Williams Park Zoo and standing up to the city’s public employee unions while building a political machine that would remain loyal to him for the rest of his life.
But Cianci’s political career came to a crashing halt in 1984 when he pleaded no contest to a vicious assault of his estranged wife’s lover. He received a five-year suspended sentence and was forced to resign from office. Still a popular figure in political circles, the charismatic Cianci took a job as a talk-show host on WHJJ-AM.
Cianci returned to politics in 1990 as an independent, defeating Democrat Andrew Annaldo and independent Fred Lippitt by 317 votes to capture City Hall again. It was during his second stint as mayor that Providence was transformed into a tourist destination, as Cianci spearheaded projects like the Providence Place mall and the moving of the rivers, which helped revitalize the city’s sleepy downtown. In 1997, USA Today called Providence one of America’s “five renaissance cities.”
Cianci’s mayoralty ended in scandal in 2002, when he resigned from office again after being convicted on a federal racketeering conspiracy. He served more than four years in federal prison and was hired by WPRO-AM to host a radio show when he returned home.
Vincent Albert Cianci Jr. was born in 1941, the son of a doctor. He grew up in Cranston and attended the Moses Brown School in Providence, where he was a member of the wrestling and football teams. He earned a degree in government from Fairfield University, a master’s degree in political science from Villanova University and his law degree from Marquette University.
Cianci married Sheila Bentley and the couple had a daughter, Nicole. The couple divorced in 1983 and Cianci never remarried. After Nicole died unexpectedly in 2012, Cianci cared for his three grandchildren.
Following his graduation from law school, Cianci worked as a prosecutor in the Rhode Island attorney general’s office before entering politics. With the nation still reeling from the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Cianci won over Providence voters with his anti-corruption campaign theme, pledging to clean up a city known best for patronage and malfeasance.
At his best, Cianci was a dynamic, hands-on politician who loved the city he served for parts of four decades. He’d work late into the night, attending birthday parties and graduation celebrations or console grieving families at wakes and funerals. He would also fly anywhere in the country to recruit a new business or promote the city.
At his worst, Cianci was known for becoming the mayor he railed against when he entered politics, placing personal gain ahead of a more prosperous city. On his radio show, Cianci would show his vindictive side, attempting to settle old scores by belittling opponents from the microphone.
In 2014, voters in Providence rejected Cianci’s final attempt to return to City Hall, but not before a rousing campaign that saw the two-time felon earn 45% of the vote against Democratic newcomer Jorge Elorza. During his victory speech on election night, Elorza said “one thing about Buddy Cianci is that he loves this city and no one can deny that.”Cianci, who lived at The 903 Residences in Providence until his death, remained a fixture on talk radio after his final campaign for mayor. He returned to his highly-rated afternoon drive-time show on WPRO-AM the day after the election.
Right after the new year, Cianci announced his engagement to his girlfriend, Tara Marie Haywood.