Long-time fans of Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. rejoiced last week when the former Providence mayor, who served nearly five years in prison on a racketeering conviction, announced his intention to seek the top job in City Hall once more.
A dozen years since Cianci last held public office, those who credit him with triggering the “Providence Renaissance” of the 1990s saw in his candidacy a chance to return to better times.
“If we go by what he has done in the past, in terms of revitalizing downtown and expanding the tax base, I think he has been a good economic-development type of mayor,” said Joseph Paolino Jr., managing partner of Paolino Properties, whose own stint as mayor was sandwiched between the first and second Cianci administrations.
“He was always pretty much the business community’s mayor years ago. He understands the big picture.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, business leaders who aren’t enthusiastic about a return to the Cianci years, who have accused him of betraying the public trust and linking Providence’s reputation with corruption, were mostly silent on his return.
Out of more than a dozen businesspeople contacted by Providence Business News about Cianci, some retired or independent from larger organizations, all but three declined to comment on his return and none came out against it.
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, for example, cited the organization’s political-neutrality policy, put in place last year, as reason for steering clear.
Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University, said the business community’s reticence to get involved yet should not be interpreted as a sign of support for Cianci and she expects establishment business interests will be one of his biggest obstacles in November.
“With the Gordon Fox [investigation] and return of Buddy coming so close together, you become concerned that outside businesses would think twice about dealing with a mayor convicted of racketeering,” Schiller said.
“People across the board have expressed real concern privately, but Buddy still seems to scare people,” Schiller said.