Former Mayor Cianci laid to rest

(Photo Courtesy: Marisa Bettencourt and Brian Yocono/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., the longest-serving mayor in Providence’s history, was laid to rest Monday following a mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in downtown.

Cianci died Jan. 28, the morning after he was rushed to the hospital after experiencing stomach pains while he taped his weekly TV show. He leaves behind three grandchildren and his fiancée, Tara Marie Haywood. He was 74.

WATCH: Vincent ‘Buddy’ Cianci’s Funeral Mass

Thousands of well-wishers poured into Providence City Hall Saturday and Sunday afternoon to say their final goodbyes to Cianci, who served as mayor of Rhode Island’s capital city from 1975 until 1984 and again from 1991 until 2002.

Cianci’s casket was carried down the front steps of City Hall shortly after 8 a.m. Monday and a horse-drawn carriage brought the former mayor’s remains to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul for a 10 a.m. mass. The procession continued from City Hall to Weybosset Street, passing the Providence Performing Arts Center, to Broad Street, before arriving at the cathedral.

Photos: Funeral Procession and Mass for Buddy Cianci » (Photo: Brian Yocono/WPRI)
Photos: Funeral Procession and Mass for Buddy Cianci » (Photo: Brian Yocono/WPRI)

The hour-long mass was officiated by Providence Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin. Haywood, Cianci’s fiance, delivered the first reading and former city solicitor Charles Mansolillo delivered the second.

In a lengthy remembrance, former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino recalled how he and Cianci went from political enemies to best friends. He told the crowd a colorful story about attending a summer party in the Hamptons hosted by journalist Matt Laurer that included cameos from Jon Bon Jovi, Bryant Gumbel, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Regis Philbin.

Later he said Cianci had the charm and charisma of former President John F. Kennedy, a love of the spotlight like former President Teddy Roosevelt, the ability to bounce back like boxer Muhammad Ali and “similar to Frank Sinatra, Buddy had to do it his way.”

“Every time Buddy suffered tragedy, trials, tribulations, or tears, he got back up,” Paolino said. “He had the tenacity to go against the establishment when it was necessary to do so. He wanted to define himself. And he defied and surmounted any challenges that stood in his way of creating a renaissance in Providence.”

In addition to Paolino, Cianci’s pallbearers included his three nephews, Dr. Jay Turchetta, Todd Turchetta and Dr. Brad Turchetta, Sgt. Steven Courville of the Providence Police Department; former head of the city’s communications department Manuel Vieira, former chief of staff Artin Coloian, former personal assistant Robert Lovell, former director of constituent affairs Scott Millard, and former member of the mayor’s staff Rick Simone.

Gov. Gina Raimondo ordered state flags lowered during the funeral period to honor Cianci. Raimondo, Mayor Jorge Elorza, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras all attended Monday’s mass.

One of Rhode Island’s most notorious politicians, Cianci’s legacy will undoubtedly be debated around dinner tables and in bar rooms across the state for generations to come.

First elected mayor in 1974, Cianci became the first Republican to lead Providence in 34 years when he stunned Democratic incumbent Joseph Doorley. The city’s first Italian-American mayor, Cianci quickly became a national star in GOP circles, delivering a prime-time speech during the 1976 Republican National Convention.

During his first tenure as mayor, which included successful re-election bids in 1978 and 1982 as well as a losing campaign for governor in 1980, Cianci was credited with renovating the Roger Williams Park Zoo and standing up to the city’s public employee unions while building a political machine that would remain fiercely loyal to him for the rest of his life.

His political career was cut short in 1984 when he pleaded no contest to a vicious assault of his estranged wife’s lover. He received a five-year suspended sentence and was forced to resign from office. He later took a job as a talk-show host on WHJJ-AM.

Cianci returned to politics in 1990 as an independent mayoral candidate, defeating Democrat Andrew Annaldo and independent Fred Lippitt by 317 votes to capture City Hall again. It was during his second stint as mayor that Providence was transformed into a tourist destination, as Cianci spearheaded projects like the Providence Place mall and the moving of the rivers, which helped revitalize the city’s sleepy downtown. In 1997, USA Today called Providence one of America’s “five renaissance cities.”

Cianci’s mayoralty ended in scandal in 2002, when he resigned from office for a second time after being convicted on a federal racketeering conspiracy. He served more than four years in federal prison, after which he was hired by WPRO-AM to host a drive-time radio show.

Cianci made one final attempt to return to City Hall in 2014, losing a hotly contested race to Democratic newcomer Jorge Elorza 52% to 45%. Although Cianci spent the final year of his life relentlessly criticizing Elorza when he returned to radio show, the new mayor was widely credited with opening the doors to City Hall to honor Cianci.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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