Saturday, September 07, 2002

Providence, RI mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci has finally been sentenced to prison for corruption. I covered Buddy's successful comeback election in 1990 as a reporter for WBRU (FM) in Providence-- incredulously, at the time. Until the vote count was underway I simply didn't believe that the convicted felon was even a serious contender. (During the campaign he famously commented that he "wanted to make love to the city," leading to a lot of newsroom mirth.) I haven't underestimated him since.

As has been widely reported, the last twelve years have seen a Providence renaissance under Cianci's leadership. The 1990s were an unusually good time for American cities in general, but Providence's performance has been exceptional nonetheless. And no one was ever in any doubt that Cianci's administration remained corrupt. Good-government reform types never had a chance at the polls; Cianci would never have been out of office again, if the feds hadn't intervened.

I'm glad Cianci finally got caught; my goo-goo instincts are at least that strong. I really do detest corruption and sleaze. And yet...Seeing Cianci at work taught me the wisdom of Robert Heinlein's old dicta about corrupt and reform politicians. Cianci understood his self-interest to be aligned with the interests of the city. In the future it will be easier to be an honest city contractor in Providence; but whether it will be easier to be a city resident remains to be seen.

One other concern: Cianci was, as I understand it, acquitted of eleven charges brought against him, and convicted of only one-- a conspiracy charge. I don't know the details. But I do know that RICO is abused with great frequency, that federal conspiracy charges are often bogus. I'm unsettled by the fact that Cianci could be acquitted of every detailed charge but convicted of conspiracy... to do what? To commit the very crimes he's been acquitted of? I gather that something like this will be the basis of Cianci's appeal. But for now, it's time to say farewell to someone who hasn't been as nationally-prominent as James Traficant but who seems to me larger than life by a much greater factor, someone whose great venality and great successes seem to have been very tightly linked.

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