After 21 Years as Mayor and a Few in Prison, Buddy Cianci Dies

by | January 29, 2016 AT 12:30 PM

By Marie Szaniszlo

Providence mourned the death yesterday of its beloved rascal, former Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr., the wisecracking political rogue who was widely credited with revitalizing the city during two stints in office that were cut short by criminal charges and a prison sentence for corruption. He was 74.

WLNE-TV said Cianci was taping his weekly TV show, "On the Record with Buddy Cianci," Wednesday night when he was taken by ambulance to the hospital with severe stomach pains. A hospital spokeswoman said he died yesterday morning. She did not release the cause.

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, who defeated Cianci in his 2014 comeback bid, ordered flags at City Hall to be flown at half-staff as the city made arrangements to memorialize its longest-serving mayor.

Cianci spent 21 years in office and was elected to six terms during two stints as mayor, starting in 1974 and ending in 2002 with his federal corruption conviction.

During that time, he used his outsized personality to sell his city -- and himself -- to a national audience. With a quick wit, political smarts, a flair for spectacle and his legendary toupee, Cianci was able to attract national attention to the capital of the nation's smallest state.

He started his own line of pasta sauce and managed to have it put on display in the window of Cartier on New York's Fifth Avenue. He became a darling of national TV and radio shows and rubbed elbows with luminaries such as Frank Sinatra. But in his later years, he often said that his proudest achievement was raising the self-esteem of the people of Providence.

Cianci was credited with resurrecting Providence from a decaying, Industrial-age relic to a 21st-century city with gondolas plying newly uncovered rivers.

"He was our rascal king," said Mike Stanton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist and author of the "Prince of Providence," about Cianci. "He could wheel and deal and connive and cajole to get what he wanted. I don't think anyone was his equal."

(c)2016 the Boston Herald