Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the former mayor of Providence and two-time felon, has somehow managed to fashion himself into a lovable-rogue figure — softening his image so much that, at 73, he’s again campaigning to lead New England’s third-largest city. The latest Cianci news, about alleged shenanigans related to his personal brand of marinara sauce, exemplifies the way his more amusingly raffish misdeeds (a previous conviction involved attacking a man he believed was his wife’s boyfriend with a lighted cigarette) can draw attention away from what are actually disqualifying crimes.
Cianci began selling the sauce in 1995, during his most recent stint as mayor, and it remains available in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. But according to the Associated Press, from 2009 to 2012 none of the proceeds actually went to support scholarships in Providence, despite the words “benefitting Providence school children” printed prominently on the label.
Some voters might forgive a politician if that was his only mistake — or even chuckle at the sheer brazenness of the scam. But voters shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Cianci’s latest escapade is representative of why he’s got a criminal record, or that “Buddy being Buddy” is harmless. Cianci was convicted of racketeering in 2002 after an investigation dubbed “Plunder Dome” found evidence of pervasive corruption at Providence City Hall. His administration oversaw a system of illegal campaign fund-raising and trading bribes for city jobs. That scandal, and his subsequent prison time, should entirely disqualify him from returning as mayor. Providence voters might get a laugh out of Cianci’s latest mishap, but they shouldn’t forget why he doesn’t belong back in City Hall.