By now, we’re sure that you have read much about the legendary, enigmatic mayor of Providence who passed away on Thursday, January 28, at the age of 74. Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci was a friend of Phillipe and Jorge’s, and referred to in the Cool, Cool World column as either Buddy “Vincent A.” Cianci (to flout journalistic form, since 75% of his supporters probably didn’t know his real first name) or the Bud-I, for his almost religious focus on his own one and only exalted presence.
Having spent decades covering the Bud-I when he was mayor, appearing with him on the radio or at fundraisers, hanging out with him at taverns and other late night haunts, we, like many others, have a bunch of stories and anecdotes about the “Bud-I years.” But instead of the tried and true yarns cited by the mainstream remembrances, here are a few that took place behind the scenes with the involvement of P&J alone or as a pair, that you might find entertaining or enlightening.
We considered Buddy a longtime friend, and a typical encounter with him might have gone along the lines of Buddy saying, “You two assholes were criticizing me about (insert scandal here), and none of it was true. How’re ya doing? Let’s have a drink.” P&J used the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde analogy long before Judge Ernest Torres invoked it at the Bud-I’s sentencing for conspiracy, and it has always seemed an apt and even fair one. From the Marquette Law School rape accusation to the birth of the “Renaissance City” to exalting Our Little Towne nationally and internationally to his stay at the government’s pleasure at Ft. Dix to his last hurrah during the 2014 run for mayor of La Prov, the man was a force of nature who could make you laugh as easily as cry.
Here goes from the Phillipe and Jorge Bud-I vault …
One of Buddy’s favorite stories was when he attended a big political shindig in Florida after having been elected Providence mayor for the first time at the ripe age of 33. He was ordering a drink when the bartender said, “You look familiar.” Busting his buttons with pride, the Bud-I informed him he was the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. To which the bartender replied, “Do you know Raymond?” (For our younger readers, “Raymond” meant Raymond L.S. Patriarca, the nationally notorious head of organized crime in New England, with a home office on Federal Hill, who Cianci prosecuted for a mob murder.) Such was the celebrity pecking order for Little Rhody in those days.
But P&J believe that from now on, if it hasn’t happened already, the Bud-I’s legacy will be that whenever you introduce yourself on your travels as coming from Providence, one of the first questions out of the mouths of strangers will be, “Did you know Buddy?” Salud!
On the Silver Screen
In 1996, there was two-part documentary, Vote for Me: Politics in America, which appeared on PBS. One of the segments was about Buddy and, somehow, he found out that Jorge was the narrator for the film. A couple of months prior to its scheduled debut on national television, J got a phone call from Buddy, ringing up from City Hall.
Buddy to Jorge: “Do you have a videotape of the show?”
Jorge: “Yes, I do, Buddy.”
Buddy: “Bring it down here. I want to see it.”
Buddy: “Right now.”
J jumped on the Broad Street bus (he was living in an illegal loft off of Broad at the time) and headed down to City Hall to the Bud-I’s office. As soon as his secretary let him know he was there, Buddy signaled him into the office and whipped out a couple of Cuban cigars (smoking these in City Hall was as illegal as J’s loft). They puffed away and J gave him the videotape that they watched via the VHS in his office. Buddy liked it and so, he rewound it and started buzzing City Hall employees to come into the office and watch it.
They watched it again and then Buddy says, “Hey, let’s have a premiere here at PPAC before it airs on TV. Have you got the producer’s number?”
“Yes, I do.”
So Buddy called Louie Alvarez (one of the producers) in New York and asked if he wanted to do a premiere at the PPAC. Louie said, “Sure,” and then Buddy immediately called PPAC to, a) book a date and, b) get the place for free. Then he gave marching orders to one of his assistants to call the union that would work a show like this at PPAC and get a deal with them.
And, yes, the premiere happened at PPAC and, yes, a fine time was had by all.
Speaking of PPAC, its renovation was one of the most fond and proudest of Buddy’s memories. Phillipe and Jorge corresponded with the Bud-I while he was living at his Ft. Dix gated community, where we would send him info about behind-the-scenes activities in Our Little Towne and the state. He also kept up through the copies of The Urinal and Providence Phoenix he received. Although these missives were confidential, the carefully handwritten 8 to 10 page letters we received showed a very human side of the man — although he would manage to get in one gripe every time about being nailed on only one indictment out of many that had him sent away for five years, and losing the subsequent appeal by only one vote. But looking back on his years as Hizzoner, he once wrote in 2005, “I take great solace knowing that what a lot of what so many people accomplished during my years in office are taking fruit — the PPAC now presenting The Lion King is a big trip from when those neighbors wanted to tear the theater down so many years ago.” His love of the arts and promoting same were critical to La Prov’s turnaround, as the likes of AS220’s Bert Crenca and WaterFire’s Barnaby Evans have been telling every news outlet upon the Bud-I’s passing.
You Guys Suck
Then there was the time in the early ‘90s, at a fundraiser/auction for Crossroads RI at the Roger Williams Park casino. They invited numerous local “celebrities” (Patrick Kennedy, P&J, Channel 12’s Karen Adams, etc.) to do humorous skits and then auctioned off prizes. P&J were downstairs having a drink with the Bud-I (who made a point of telling us, “You guys sucked”) before we went back upstairs to our table where we were sitting with Mary Ann Sorrentino. The Bud-I was supposedly leaving and headed to the men’s room to steel up his courage, so to speak, before leaving for the next event, but he apparently heard Karen Adams doing her skit that included joking references to the mayor his own self. He stormed back upstairs and, when the bids came in for whatever prize was being auctioned off, he kept bidding but insisting that, if he won, he wanted to have the microphone again.
Naturally, he made the highest bid and got the microphone back and immediately launched into a spiel about how Phillipe & Jorge sucked and so did Karen Adams. We all had a good laugh, rolled our eyes and could only say, “Well, that’s Buddy,” and then he was gone with the wind.
While media outlets like you to think that everyone presenting their happy news is oh-so-chummy off the air as well, nothing could be further from the truth than when Buddy joined WPRO after coming back from his enforced vacation. The Bud-I couldn’t stand his fellow radio hosts John DePetro (well, everyone loathes DePetro) and Dan Yorke for putting the boot on him for his past transgressions. And the extent of his disdain for both of them led to station insiders saying that DePetro and Yorke would practically have someone check the halls for Cianci before they left their studios lest they encounter him face-to-face and feel the wrath firsthand.
Don’t cross Buddy. That was gospel for anyone in Our Little Towne who wanted to survive Mr. Hyde’s emergence from the dark side. Most notably taught that lesson were the stiff WASP-y necks at Brown’s University Club who denied the Bud-I admission, and then surprisingly found permits to renovate their East Side eating establishment extremely hard to obtain. At least until they were forced to take a walk down College Hill to plant a soon well-publicized kiss on a certain derriere at City Hall, accompanied by an approved membership application to their boys’ club.
It was also a rule famously broken by a bar/restaurant on North Main Street during the Bud-I’s reign. When Buddy arrived at the popular club late one evening with a full entourage, the bouncer allowed the mayor in for free, but insisted the rest of his entourage pay the cover charge. By noon the next day, the bar’s licenses had been lifted for violation of whatever ordinances immediately came to mind, which could have ranged from health violations to having ugly cocktail glasses.
But the Bud-I could also take a joke … at times. A photographer friend of P&J’s was at the grand re-opening of the Arcade in downtown Providence years ago, where all the city’s major domos donned top hats for the ceremony. Our pal noticed that when they prepared to play the national anthem, all the top hats came off — except for Buddy’s. He had evidently snagged his famous toupee on the hat, and rather than risk tearing it off and having a shot of his bald head appear in the next day’s paper, he just left his hat on. When P&J informed him of this lapse in etiquette, and we knew why, he got a good chuckle. But he did get a bit miffed after he was sent to Ft. Dix when a member of the cast in an annual Providence Journal Follies show claimed to be wearing an actual Cianci rug during the production, writing to inform P&J that all of his real “squirrels “ — an elite lineup ranging from “new haircut” to “getting a bit long” to “a touch of gray now” — were in storage under the stewardship of David from his beloved Squire’s hair salon. Since he arrived back in Little Rhody sans squirrel to the delight of one and all, the location of the most famous rugs in local history (sorry, Rustigians) remains a well-kept secret.
Best Line Under Duress
The Bud-I almost couldn’t help but come up with a good line, even under pressure or in the worst of times. In a famous story when the feds were breathing down his neck, he was given a photo by a local FBI man from a video showing his chief of staff, Frank Corrente, taking a bribe and tucking it away in his office right after being handed it. Running down to Corrente’s office and bursting in screaming at him about being a moron for being caught red-handed on tape, Corrente reportedly said, “I can say I was taking it out to give to him, not putting it away,” to which the Bud-I screamed, “What do you think they are going to do, run the tape backwards in court?!?!”
We loved you and we will miss you mightily, Bud-I, you wild and crazy guy.