If political corruption were an Olympic sport, there would be more gold in Rhode Island than Fort Knox.
Massachusetts has its share of sticky-fingered politicians, but, pound for pound, Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, punches way above its weight. Little Rhody is the one state where pols would steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke.
A wiseguy I know — a political wiseguy, not the kind who makes book on Federal Hill — tells me that when the feds raided the office of Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox in March, it was the first time law enforcement agents had searched the State House.
What were they waiting for?
Searching offices at the Rhode Island State House would be considered, in other disciplines, like shooting fish in a barrel.
Fox resigned as speaker, and while he hasn’t been charged with anything, yet, his departure is just the latest in a state where running for office often leads to running from the law.
In Rhode Island, being speaker of the House is as good as being a made guy. Joe Bevilacqua left the speakership to become chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Alas, he had to quit after it became public record, as opposed to common knowledge, that he hung around with wiseguys, and I don’t mean the political kind.
Bevilacqua’s successor, Tom Fay, resigned after he and another former House speaker, Mattie Smith, got caught using court secretaries to run a real estate business out of the Supreme Court.
A few years ago, three industrious city councilors from North Providence — Zam Zambarano, Joe Burchfield, and Ray Douglas — got lengthy prison sentences for soliciting more than $100,000 in bribes.
When it comes to grifting mayors, Rhody’s can outsteal anybody. Everybody knows Buddy Cianci, the longtime Providence mayor. Buddy was convicted of assault but dodged prison in 1984 after he had a conversation with some guy he thought was having an affair with his wife.
During that conversation, Buddy used a cigarette, an ashtray, and a fireplace log as exclamation points.
Buddy wasn’t so lucky when he got jammed up in the Plunder Dome scandal, in which he and his flunkies were putting the arm on anyone and anything that moved in Providence. Buddy did four years, got out of the can in 2007, and is now working as a radio talk show host. (Insert joke here.) Naturally, Buddy’s thinking of running for mayor again. I hope he wins.
The former mayor of Central Falls, Charlie Moreau, just got out of the can on a bribery bit. He’s still on probation.
Probation officers in Rhode Island can find their way to the State House in their sleep.
So, given all this, it’s not surprising that the House Committee for Health, Education and Welfare will vote Wednesday to . . . wait for it, wait for it . . . make calamari the official state appetizer.
Representative Joe McNamara filed the bill and is quite passionate about calamari and quite proud that Rhode Island has the largest squid fishing fleet on the East Coast.
“Squid,” the proposed law reads, “is to Rhode Island what lobster is to Maine and cod is to Massachusetts.”
The Providence Journal is running one of those online polls, asking people if they think calamari should be the state’s official appetizer. By Monday morning, 228 people had actually taken the time to vote and it wasn’t good news for the squid set. The nos were running at 75 percent.
If I had to guess, those early no votes probably came from people who think there are, ahem, bigger fish to fry at the State House.
And, not for nothin’, but if politicians in Rhode Island decide to have an official state dance, the choice is obvious: the perp walk.