MEET THE PRESS Buddy at his campaign HQ.
"As this campaign goes on, you’ll see that this is not about personality,” says the man with the most distinct and divisive personality in Providence history.
It’s Wednesday morning, September 10, and 73-year-old Buddy Cianci is standing at a podium (and on a wooden box that makes him about six inches taller) inside his campaign headquarters on Broad Street. To his right, on the other side of a glass door, is parked a red SUV emblazoned with a wrap-around, larger-than-life image of the man, next to “LEADERSHIP! Vote BUDDY Cianci” printed in extra-large letters. In the next room, the building’s foyer is essentially a Buddy Cianci Museum. The walls are lined with dozens of artifacts: an old bronze sign reading “Mayor’s Office Vincent A. Cianci, Jr.”; photos of Cianci with Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and Billy Joel; a Warhol-style grid painting with Cianci’s face repeated nine times; a Providence Monthly cover featuring Cianci dressed as Santa Claus; a 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award plaque from the RI Cape Verdean Cultural Exchange and Education Project.
Today is the first press conference of the Buddy 3.0 era — or, to put it another way, “my first Buddy Cianci news conference in, what, 12, 13 years?” as Rhode Island Public Radio Political reporter Ian Donnis tweeted. Last night, after a $1000-a-head fundraiser with a few dozen supporters at the ProvidenceG building’s rooftop bar, the former mayor made his way down to the more crowded, $25-per-person primary election-watching party in the basement G Pub, where he worked the room as the evening’s developments were announced on TVs lining the walls. (At one point, Cianci declined to sign a supporter’s copy of former ProJo reporter Mike Stanton’s book, The Prince of Providence, and signed a piece of paper instead.) Around 9:50 pm, as General Treasurer Gina Raimondo was giving her victory speech for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on TV, Cianci stepped up to deliver a fiery speech that began with him bellowing, “My name is Buddy Cianci. I’m running for mayor of Providence. I’m optimistic about our future, and I’m ready to go to work,” before the screams of the crowd drowned him out.
Today’s press conference was called so Cianci could introduce his team: campaign co-chairs Leah Williams Metts (a community activist who rallied against the closure of the Davey Lopes pool) and veteran Providence city councilman Kevin Jackson; chairman and treasurer Charles Mansolillo (a former state rep and city councilman described in a press release as a “longtime friend and associate of Cianci”); campaign manager Cyd McKenna (a former policy staffer from Cianci’s time at City Hall); finance chair Deedee Witman (a prominent East Sider who has previously served as finance chair for campaigns of Richard Licht and Joe Paolino); and campaign press officer Beryl Kenyon (a member of Cianci’s press office from 1992 to 2002). It’s also a chance for the press to pepper the former mayor with questions about whether he’s a polarizing figure (“Really?” delivered with a smile), his health (“Perfect”), his past (“I’m the most vetted candidate, probably, in America”), and tax policy, which has already emerged as a battleground in the brand-new general election race. (Earlier in the day, Cianci told News Radio 920’s Ron St. Pierre, “My opponent. . . proposes a municipal income tax.” Newly-crowned Democratic nominee Jorge Elorza quickly fired back in an email to the Phoenix, “I have no plans to make any new taxes part of my agenda as mayor. On the other hand, my opponent — in his own book — said the first thing a new mayor should do is raise taxes and then ‘blame it on the previous administration.’ ”)