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Vincent 'Buddy' Cianci, Longtime Mayor Of Providence, R.I., Dies

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Vincent Buddy Cianci died today. The former mayor of Providence, R.I. was a tightly-wound bundle of contradictions. As a young prosecutor, he led the state's anticorruption strike force. Years later, he went to prison for corruption. The judge who sentenced Cianci likened him to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio examines why.

IAN DONNIS, BYLINE: The 74-year-old Cianci was a picture of jagged contrasts. His biographer, former Providence Journal reporter Mike Stanton, explained the two sides of Buddy as he was called in a 2014 interview.

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MIKE STANTON: There was the charismatic Buddy that wanted to be your friend, would do anything to help you, was entertaining and made you feel good about your city, and then there was the other Buddy who whether, as he says, he didn't know about it or not, you know, presided over a City Hall where there was a range of corruption, there was a range of people doing things that they shouldn't have been doing

DONNIS: Cianci downplayed his responsibility for the problems during his two stints as mayor, a total of about 20 years in office. He maintained he was innocent of corruption and said he was motivated by his passion for Providence. Here's how Cianci put it after announcing his second comeback attempt in 2014 in a hallway at the talk-radio station where he worked as an afternoon host.

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VINCENT BUDDY CIANCI: I love being mayor and I think that we had a real roll going on in the city. And we had a lot going on. And I think since that time, we've experienced $110 million deficits, potholes in streets. I would be absolutely flabbergasted if I were mayor and the streets were like this.

DONNIS: Cianci said identity politics were not a big part of his political success.

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CIANCI: Remember, when I ran for mayor, I didn't get all the Italian vote. I didn't carry any Italian areas except one.

DONNIS: It was historic when Cianci won election as the first Italian-American mayor of Providence in 1974. As the Republican anticorruption candidate, Cianci became legend when he pleaded no contest to charges involving a sensational 1983 assault on a man suspected of involvement with his estranged wife. He was accused of using a fireplace log and a lit cigarette in the attack, although he denied some of the details. Cianci left City Hall after being charged. By 1990, he regained the mayor's office in his first comeback, squeaking through as an Independent in a tight three-way race. He went on to preside over the so-called Providence Renaissance, a time of improvement for the city and its image. After the FBI raided City Hall in 1999, Cianci was convicted of a single count of racketeering conspiracy, and he spent five years in prison. In 2014, Cianci made his last bid for a comeback as the mayor of Providence at age 73 even though he'd been treated for colorectal cancer. But he was defeated by a first-time candidate, the son of Guatemalan immigrants. For NPR News, I'm Ian Donnis in Providence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ian Donnis has been the political reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio since 2009. The Washington Post has called him one of Rhode Island’s best political reporters. Besides reporting, Ian tweets at @IanDon, hosts RIPR’s weekly Political Roundtable, and contributes to the station’s On Politics blog.

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