TOM WARD - Our celebrity fixation
TOM WARD - Our celebrity fixation
Last week, I met a former Blackstone Valley mayor who asked: "So, what do you think the chances are of Buddy Cianci getting elected again?" Of course, he was referring to the former Providence mayor, convicted and sent to federal prison more than a decade ago (as if I had to tell you that).
"One hundred percent," I replied with absolute certainty.
The mayor seemed surprised. He shouldn't have been. We live in a new America today, one which casts aside thoughtful discussion of the issues, and embraces sound bites and double talk, backed by celebrity. And in Providence, there is no bigger celebrity than Buddy Cianci. Larger than life, Cianci sucks the oxygen out of every room he walks in to. He owns it. He owns Providence. A conviction on racketeering? Who cares?
Look at Charlie Hall's cartoon this week. There is no other story right now.
Governor's race? What governor's race?
If I were one of his opponents, I'd quit and save my money.
Unfortunately, no matter what I or the people of Providence think of Cianci, his run is more bad news for the state, again languishing in last place in CNBC's "America's Top States for Business." For despite all the breathless Cianci coverage last week here in insular Rhode Island - from the adulation, to introspection, to the concern about what it means - it all just looks like hell outside of our state.
On The Daily Beast website last week, David Freedlander wrote: "Ex-Con, Ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci Wants His Old Job Back. After nearly five years in prison, the Prince of Providence, Rhode Island announced (June 25) he would run for mayor as an independent. If he wins, it wouldn't be the first time voters rewarded his bad behavior. The ex-convict mayor of Providence is coming back for more."
Ughhh. That's the Cianci narrative outside Little Rhody, and it's not helpful. After all, there has been precious little success in attracting anybody to the I-195 land that our hopeful leaders all gush over, and Cianci's arrival will likely be off-putting to developers from outside the state. (And by the way, an aside: Can we stop getting excited about Brown University, Johnson & Wales, and all the other "growth engines" that won't pay any taxes on the property if they go there? Can we find tax-paying entities? Please?)
I also think Cianci's run is terrible news for Democrat gubernatorial candidate and current Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Putting aside the obvious point that his donation base might dry up, with all the cash heading to Buddy, Cianci will be campaigning (and getting statewide attention along the way) on how he will "fix up" the mess that Providence finances are. The $100 million deficit is still there, despite Taveras' heroically catchy sound bite about finding a "Category 5 hurricane" after former Mayor (and now Congressman) David Cicilline left, and then giving Cicilline a political pass on his part in the wreckage.
Actually, I've never personally considered Taveras a serious contender for governor. I felt he knew he did all he could in his four years, he knew the city's finances would only get worse, and so he was heading for the exits in his run for governor. I still believe that.
As for Cianci, you might wonder what any of his candidacy has to do with you, a resident of northern Rhode Island. The answer: A lot! Hold your wallets! To his credit, Cianci was always a master of securing more state aid to the "Capital City," as if it was the obligation of all of us to clean up the mess there. Hell, who in that city was dumb enough to give 6 percent annual raises to retired firefighters for a time? That's the kind of stupidity the rest of us in the suburbs will be asked to pay for to keep the beloved "Capital City" afloat. And Cianci will lead that parade. You won't read about it, of course. It will all be back room stuff. Still, it will happen, as few of us really pay attention anymore.
To repeat, we elect celebrities, and we do it at our own peril.
Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers