Buddy Cianci was Providence’s most infamous mayor – a favorite long-time guest on Don Imus’s radio show and in correctional facilities across Rhode Island.
First jailed while in office (for putting a cigarette butt out in the face of his wife’s lover whom he evidently mistook for an ashtray), Buddy still won re-election, campaigning from the slammer. Squat and gruff, Buddy favored big cigars, shiny suits, a bad toupee and the occasional bribe. For the last he finally had to leave the Mayoral Mansion for a longer ride up the river for racketeering.
But when he was in his glory in the 1980’s, the trains ran on time in Providence and the city was humming. I was touring my big and popular Jurassic Park exhibit — on the science or lack thereof in the movie, raising $3 million for dinosaur research.
I was surprised by Buddy’s early-morning phone call, our first conversation. I’d been negotiating at a snail’s pace with his aptly titled Vice-Mayor, and now the trucks full of my exhibit needed to leave for Providence and I didn’t have the promised contract.
“We don’t need no Giraffic Park,” growled his Eminence. This was, as I was instantly aware, his deft opening gambit in a last-minute shakedown to drop my price.
“No, Mr. Mayor, it’s Jurassic Park.”
“Whatever. We don’t need no giraffes. Not at those prices.”
I struggled to restrain myself. “But your Vice Mayor promised. I could take you to court on this.”
The phone reverberated with his throaty laugh. “Court? Who do you think owns all the judges in Rhode Island?”
I took the question to be rhetorical. I fumbled for another strategy.
“Look, Mr. Mayor, I’m friends with reporters at the Journal Bulletin” (Indeed, I was).
“Be in my office at 8 a.m,” he grumbled. I’d hit a nerve.
Mr. Mayor was already well-ensconced in his capacious office when I arrived – dressed to the nines and puffing a stogie lit by a buxom blonde of the Jessica Rabbit persuasion. A couple of lackeys flanked his big desk. Leaning back in his chair, fingering his meteorite-sized pinkie ring, the Mayor was entranced with what was on the massive color TV counsel at the other end of the room. Himself. The Son of God had died the night before — Frank Sinatra — and all of Providence was in mourning. The Mayor was taking in his soliloquy on Ol’ Blue Eyes so motioned me to sit down.
When it ended, he turned a cold eye toward me. “So you in or you out?”
Overnight, I’d found my composure. “If it’s the agreed-upon price, Sir, I’m in.”
“Not gonna happen.”
I got up to leave.
“Where YOU goin’?”
“I’m leaving, Mr. Mayor. I don’t think we have anything else to discuss,” I said in my most restrained voice.
“Listen,” he pointed a fat finger at me, “you walk outta this office, you ain’t never walking back in.”
“Sounds like a deal to me,” I said as I exited. I wished for a Kevlar vest as I headed to the door, but no shots were fired.
I brought the trucks to Providence, and kept going to Hartford. For the Mayor’s price, half what I’d bargained for, I put the show on in Connecticut.
But with no Buddy Cianci, and no giraffes. Fine with me.