Tag Archives: Rhode Island

On the Road

RI capitol in front of mall.jpgProvidenceconstruction.JPGProvidence big three and biltmore.jpgBenefit street.JPG

By Rosalie Tirella

Today I needed to drive into Providence. So I grabbed a pal and we headed down 146 South, he on the look-out for old signs, me on my mission. Rain, drizzle, rawness in the air … . And guess what? Even though I missed the exit to the cool Italian restaurant on Federal Hill (he didn’t want to drive), despite the rain, drizzle and rawness in the air, it was all so very … pleasant!


It wasn’t Water Fire or Brown University or RISD. Nope. Much more basic than that: it was the people.

It was the people, peeps!

Nice, polite – even friendly – people. Providence is loaded with them!

I am driving in the middle of Providence on Highway 95, not knowing which lane I need to swerve into. I am driving kinda funny. My fellow drivers slow down, are patient with my unfamiliarity with their town and allow me to drive ACROSS 95 (the equivalent of Worcester’s 290) to the correct lane – the lane I need to reach to get off at the correct exit.

Not one middle finger jammed into the air by my fellow drivers during the entire ordeal! Not one! HEAVEN!

Next: I ask a cop in a parking lot for directions to my destination and he is wonderful! He is … professional! Helpful! Smiles even! It is only natural that I want to say (and do): “Thank you, officer!” He deserved the (respectful) thanks! My friend – a guy who has been around the block once or twice – was also impressed with the police officer’s demeanor. “Maybe it’s because it’s warmer here [than in Worcester],” he offered, unhelpfully.

“Bull,” I said. “Three or four degrees warmer than Worcester?! We’re not talking Florida here! He was  nice and helpful – acted the way we were taught cops are supposed to act with the public.”

Today Providence felt like a cool blue collar city. Busy, bustling and all the men and women nice and physical and … kinda happy. So unlike Worcester, where folks can be terse, rude, unfriendly and get into your face. And forget about considerate driving. You are road kill here in Worcester! I can’t believe we have painted bike paths through KELLEY SQUARE! Kelley Square!

When I asked another Providence guy to recommend a great restaurant in the city, he did (readily) but not before calling his co-worker to get the best directions because, when he goes to the restaurant, “my wife drives.” He smiled a nice big SMILE. A smile in the drizzle – for us! As if he enjoyed chatting with us! In the rain!

This doesn’t happen often enough in Worcester. We celebrate World Smiley Day here – invented the yellow smile puss! But we never practice it!

And being a nice person – especially when an entire city’s populace seems to be on the same nice vibe – MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

Makes a city better. More livable. More attractive even. Catnip to tourists who want to spend their money around NICE people.

Makes a visitor want to return to Providence to find that cool Italian restaurant on Federal Hill.

InCity Times book review: POLITICS AND PASTA … By Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. with David Fisher


By Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. with David Fisher

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

Former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. continues to fascinate.

Cianci was the last of the old-school ethnic politicians. In this colorful, highly anecdotal memoir, Cianci recounts his rise and fall as the Mayor of Providence.

Industrial wasteland

When Cianci first became mayor in 1975, Providence was not a dying city. It was pretty much dead. An industrial wasteland whose industries had disappeared, it had little money, political corruption was pandemic, and the organized crime family led by Worcester native Raymond L.S. Patriarca dominated the city.

When Cianci left office in 2002 to go to prison, Providence was a thriving metropolis, with a booming economy, great restaurants, the attraction of events such as “Waterfire”, and was being described in national publications as one of the best urban areas to live in. How Cianci got the city there is a great story.

Cianci recounts his early childhood as the son of an immigrant doctor. He attended the “extremely prestigious” Moses Brown School, a place populated by upper class White Anglo Saxon Protestants. The social snubs he encountered as an Italo-American there scarred him for life: “[I] was the outsider who didn’t belong,” recalled Cianci. “At first I felt tolerated rather than accepted. It was a feeling I never forgot, and maybe more than anything else, it was that feeling that drove me to succeed.”

Cianci attended law school and became a “special assistant attorney general” under Attorney General Herbert DeSimone. In a high profile case he unsuccessfully prosecuted Mafia boss Patriarca. But it made Cianci’s name known. Because of his youth – he was thirty three when first elected Mayor – Cianci ran as a Republican where he did not have to pay any dues. Writes Cianci: “Because the Republican candidate had almost no chance of winning, pretty much anyone who could raise or put up enough money to pay for his campaign could have the nomination. So I knew I could get it.”

Unopposed in the primary, Cianci won the hard-fought general election by 709 votes. Like Barack Obama in 2009, he now had to face the reality of governing amidst the high hopes raised by his campaign rhetoric.

Limited powers

Cianci found the Providence mayor didn’t have a lot of power. It wasn’t as ceremonial a position as in Worcester; he couldn’t replace department heads without the approval of a Democratic controlled City Council. Cianci had four things going for him: control of the city inspection departments; control of what banks held the city’s money, particularly its large pension reserves; the ability to make political alliances’; and patronage. He exploited them brilliantly to get his way:

[Symbol] He made common cause with preservationists. Across America city governments were knocking down buildings as part of “urban redevelopment”. Cianci had the good sense to realize that Providence’s past could be part of its future. He repeatedly said no to tearing down historic if slightly decrepit buildings.

[Symbol] Cianci wanted to reopen the historic Biltmore Hotel and cut a deal with a development group to restore the hotel in exchange for tax increment financing. The owners of the building held out for too high a price. Cianci ordered in the city inspectors, who ordered expensive repairs. “I knew I wasn’t being fair, but so what?” says Cianci. “This wasn’t supposed to be fair fight. They were playing on my field and I owned the referees.” The owner reduced his asking price to $925,000, of which $300,00 went to pay back taxes.

[Symbol] The owner of Loews’s theatre wanted to tear down his building. Cianci refused to give him a demolition permit, and delicately negotiated Loews’s sale to a redevelopment group. When the owner held out for $40,000 he was allegedly offered in addition to the sale price, Cianci gave him a job for $25,000 as an “artistic consultant”. The building reopened as the Providence Performing Arts building.

[Symbol] In an innovative program, Cianci gave vacant lots to adjacent homeowners, putting them in the hands of peope who would care for them and at the same time restoring the properties to the tax rolls.

[Symbol] Cianci made a campaign promise to have Providence banks sell food stamps, instead of forcing citizens to go to distribution centers. Cianci called in Industrial National Bank President John J. Cummings and told him to either sell the food stamps, or he wanted millions of dollars in city pension funds in cash by 3:00 PM. Cummings agreed to sell the stamps. “[W]hen he [Cummings] died, the family called and specifically informed me I was not welcome at the funeral,” recalled Cianci.

[Symbol] When HUD offered a $9.1 million block grant to Providence, Cianci set up a committee composed of representatives of citizen’s groups to divvy up the money. Every time a group popped up, Cianci would co-opt it by putting a member of the group on the committee, which came to have 107 members.

Brushes with law

Cianci had two brushes with the law. In 1984 he was forced to resign after being convicted of allegedly assaulted his wife’s lover. Re-elected in 1990, Cianci in 2002 was convicted of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) act by running City Hall as a crime organization. Cianci noted that he was indicted on 26 counts but convicted of only one, being responsible for the corruption of others.Cianci says that he will deny any involvement in corruption until his dying day. “The whole indictment was a fiction,” he said.

If you’re considering a political career in Worcester politics, Cianci’s autobiography is a must read. He has sound advice on running campaigns and a good common sense approach to urban renewal.