WGBH News Morning Edition host Bob Seay chatted with Vincent "Buddy" Cianci — the former and longest-running mayor of Providence, who is now a radio talk-show host and TV commentator — about a recent Gallup poll showing that more than any other Americans, Rhode Islanders are the most dissatisfied with the state of their state. Listen or read for more about the recent Gallup poll, the State of Rhode Island, the Curt Schilling loans, and Cianci's possible plans to once again run for public office.
Bob Seay: I hope Rhode Islanders are feeling a little bit better about their state, but to what do you attribute to the rating of self-esteem in Rhode Island?
Buddy Cianci: Overly self critical. Because we achieved perfection, and that's what our problem is. Number two, we're always criticizing ourselves more than anybody else is. It's like criticizing your brother: you can criticize him, but nobody else can. I think that when this Gallup poll came to town, I guess they were being extremely overly critical of Rhode Island. Because Providence has had its troubles with taxes, and low employment, and those things — and corruption — and so they think we have the corner on that here in Rhode Island, but we don't. In fact, we're probably about average. But I think that when you boil it all down, that we've got a great state, and I think people realize that. I think that when they were asked — I think another thing is that we're small. You know a bomb could go off in San Antonio and no one would know about it in the other parts of Texas. If somebody here throws up, you know, everybody in the state knows about it. Everybody knows each other, and we're a small state with only a million people. And we're only 47 by 39 miles, something like that so it's small geographic area, with less people. So people get to know more about each other-- become more self critical. But we are a great place to live, and I think those people — those 80 something percent of the people who said they want to move, I don't think they really understood the question because, let's face it, this is a great place to live.
BS: Buddy, isn't it true that that the city and the state face a different economic climate than you were facing back in the 80s and 90s?
BC: Yes, and I don't think the city can be fixed without the state. We have some great things in Rhode Island, but we also have some problems. We have a high unemployment rate, we have a corporate tax that's unacceptable, we also have one of the highest — if not the highest — property tax in America, and we add all these things in, and if you look at our tax ethic compared to our tax capacity? There's absolutely no what that we should be this way. And although we have great positive things, these people that took this poll that said they want to move, you can come to Providence and go to Newport, and have a great time. Great historic buildings that have been preserved. I mean, you can see performing arts, Broadway plays are built right here. Trinity Repertoire Theater, which is a Tony Award winning repertoire theater, right here in Providence. The best restaurants in the country are here because we made them that way with loan programs back when I was mayor. And then of course, we relocated the rivers. We have the Providence Place Mall, you can go see a hockey game. You can go see basketball, you can go to a first class restaurant, you can go to the waterfront, you can do all kinds of things here — you can go to a world class zoo! What are you going to do in Montana on Saturday night?
BS: Well that you so much former Providence Mayor. Buddy Cianci, responding to this poll which said that Rhode Islanders are suffering from some low self-esteem. It sounds like, Buddy, that residents are selling the state and themselves themselves short.
In addition to the poll, Seay and Cianci also talked about the role of politicians, 38 Studios, and his political future:
BS: I know it the past we've talked about economic problems in Rhode Island, you said once to me that one of the most important jobs for a politician is to make the residents feel good about themselves. Do you think the politicians aren't doing that job?
BC: Yeah that's right, we have a bunch of progressive politicians in the state, and they're good, I respect them, however, a lot of them are bean counters, not a lot of them are risk takers. they point out what's bad, instead of talking about what's good, and that might be okay, but when I was mayor — I was mayor over the course of four decades — 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. You know, people would always say to me, 'What's the best thing you ever did for your city? Was it building the Providence Place mall? Or building the convention center? Or making a world class zoo?' All those kind of things. None of those things, Bob. The best thing we ever did in my administration was raise the self esteem of the people to levels they never thought they could achieve. Once you get that accomplished. You can do anything. That's the feeling people had years ago in the city — their self-esteem was raised — and today, you talk about deficits, and we talk about how you can't do things as opposed to how you can do things. And I think that's one of the problems.
BS: Let's turn to another issue that's pretty hot right now, and that's the 38 Studios situation where the state is on the hook for millions of dollars in a loan guarantee to former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's now bankrupt company. Now, you've taken a pretty strong stance on this, haven't you?
BC: I have. I've been there, bought the tee shirts. You know, everyone knows the story the state came in a couple years ago, and they gave a loan guarantee of $75 million to Curt Schilling, the pitcher from the Red Sox, this is like a lot of antagonists in the state — imagine what we would have done for Yogi Berra? But we gave him $75 million, and they place went kaput. They question of how, when, who, what, that's all over now, they blew the $75 million on this cartoon company. And now the bonds that were sold — those people want their money. But it was a moral obligation bond. There's a big difference in the law about what a moral obligation and what a general obligation bond is. And basically this all came about because Nelson Rockefeller, years ago, knew he could never get the voters to vote for bond issues in New York Sates, because the State was in tough economic condition. So he and John Mitchell — famous legal man — decided that they would do this moral obligation stuff: acts like a bond, looks like a bond, works like a bond, but it's not a bond, because in the bond it says you have no legal obligation to pay it. You have to be a qualified investor to buy it. All these people that bought these bonds well the weren't little old ladies trying to make a few bucks, this was USAA Insurance, it was State Farm, billion-billion-billion-dollar companies. So they made an investment, they were going to get 7 percent, so I maintain that you don't have to pay it. And the rating issues are coming in and saying, 'Well if you pay it, your bond rating is going to go down.' Well that's 'the sky's gonna fall.' We pay our general obligations bonds, we always will, but there's a big engagement as to how that money was legislated even. They're playing Sargent Schultz: 'I know nothing.' They voted $125, and didn't know what they were voting for.
BS: So you think they should forget the moral aspect of these loans?
BC: Yeah, and if the people who bought those bonds were depending on the morality of the legislature to pay it, that's nuts, because they're not moral up there anyway.
BS: Now Mayor, you've been elected twice as mayor of Providence.
BC: Six times.
BS: Six times. You've had two terms though right?
BC: Well six terms, but I had two different stints as mayor. I had Buddy I, and Buddy II, I was a two-timing mayor of the city of Providence.
BS: Okay, now you also served some time in federal prison on conspiracy charges, and you're publicly battling cancer. Some say you are considering a run again for political office, possibly another run for mayor. Is that true?
BC: Well that's always in the works. The Press always asks me that. I've considered it, and I haven't made a decision yet. You have to make a decision by June, I think 25th. But, you know, would I consider it? Sure. I love the city of Providence, and I wouldn't run to make history, I'd run to make a difference, if I did run.
BS: So it sounds like they need their self esteem boosted.
BC: Exactly, and the present mayor is running for governor, and the seat is open. About four or five running in there, and I'm not sure any of them know what the guts of the city are about — what we need to do.