Out-of-country Cianci tale

Malta_monuments1.jpg

Fortified Valletta, capital of Malta. (no-limit.info)

Buddy Cianci. RIP. Everyone in Providence has a Buddy story, and many will be told fondly following the death of Vincent A. Cianci Jr. yesterday.

My Cianci story – this one, at least – involves a trip to Malta as guest of U.S. Ambassador (realtor and former Providence mayor) Joe Paolino Jr. Paolino and Cianci were political rivals and, so far as I could tell, personal enemies. Paolino had taken over Cianci’s mayoral office in 1984 after the latter plead no-contest to assault. Paolino had served honorably and effectively even as Cianci the radio talk-show host fired daily brickbats at Paolino. When finally eligible to return to office, Cianci succeeded Paolino in 1991 after the latter ran unsuccessfully for governor. Paolino was appointed U.S. ambassador to Malta by President Clinton in 1994.

In 1996, Paolino invited me to visit and write about Malta’s extraordinary architectural treasures. I did not report the following story in the last of my three Malta columns for the Providence Journal.

Ambassador Paolino, his friend U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, several of the ambassador’s other friends and colleagues and I were seated in the U.S. ambassador’s residence in the suburbs of Valletta, Malta’s capital. I joined these eminent Italian-Americans in a favorite pastime of the tribe – watching The Godfather and calling out favorite lines known by heart to (almost) all present. And then, surprise of surprises, the front door opened and in walked Paolino’s enemy, his predecessor and successor as mayor of Providence, Buddy Cianci, who sat down and joined in the fun. End of story.

***

Malta: An Ocean State cabal?
February 29, 1996

MALTA IS A ROCK of limestone 50 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles north of Tripoli. Its land area of 122 square miles, which includes the island of Gozo, is a tenth that of Rhode Island. With a population of 356,427, just over a third of the Ocean State’s, its density is 2,934 residents per square mile, compared with the Ocean State’s 814.

So, in Malta the likelihood of running into somebody you know is even higher than it is in Rhode Island. For example, once in the medieval city of Mdina and once at the Courts of Justice near my hotel in the capital, Valletta, I ran into Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Scalia was in Malta as a guest of the U.S. ambassador, Joseph R. Paolino Jr., as was I. But as a Marylander, he seemed quite the outsider, for in Malta that week, Rhode Islanders were thick as . . . er, thick on the ground.

In addition to me and the former mayor of Providence, his wife Lianne, and their four children, the crowd from the Biggest Little included: a former candidate for mayor, Andrew Annaldo; a former lieutenant governor, Thomas DeLuglio; his daughter and a friend; pollster Tony Pesaturo; and the current mayor of Providence, Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci.

Oddly enough, with none of these visiting Rhode Islanders did my path cross unexpectedly in Malta. I saw them only at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, in suburban Lija, where they seemed like characters in the opening chapter of a Joseph Conrad novel, waiting around on the veranda for the plot to begin.

But let’s pause for a word from our sponsor.

(A man in a pith helmet stands on the roof of Development House, in the suburb of Floriana, where the U.S. Embassy is situated. He is peering south through binoculars. A narrator speaks in a British accent.)

“Here in Malta, U.S. Amb. Joseph Paolino Jr. maintains a vigilant watch, alert for terrorists from Libya. The ferry from Malta links the island to Tripoli. From Tripoli, the dictator Moammar Ghadafi sends spies, bombers and emissaries of hatred on missions against the Western World, much as Sulieman the Magnificent did centuries ago. In part as a bulwark against this threat, the ambassador has worked to bring Malta into NATO’s Partnership for Peace. But he has also worked to bring development into Malta, and jobs for the Maltese people. For example, the U.S. Navy may use Malta’s dry docks for repair work, and McDonald’s has a new franchise in Valletta. No wonder Joe Paolino is a household name on this island. ‘Ambassador Paolino and the people of Malta.’ ”

This information, although delivered to my readers in the form of a [fictional!] political advertisement, accurately reflects what was gleaned by this correspondent from the ambassador, his family, Mr. Pesaturo and an interview with Deputy Chief of Mission Charles N. “Pat” Patterson, a career diplomat who is not from Rhode Island. (This correspondent had intended to keep politics and diplomacy out of his dispatches, and did in his first two. But rumors of an “alliance” between former and current Providence mayors, and of a house purchased in Narragansett – in Rhode Island, not in Malta – have eroded his resolve.)

Feb. 9, a Friday, was my most curious day in Malta. With an introduction from the ambassador, I had breakfast with the Marquis de Piro and his wife before touring their house, Cassa Rocca, the only mansion in Valletta inhabited by Maltese nobility since the age of the Knights of Malta. I then visited Patti Richards, whom I’d met at a state dinner on Tuesday. With her, I toured the villa that her employer, Demajo Co., has rehabbed as its office in Valletta. Afterward, she called Magistrate Dennis Montebello (who was also at our table Tuesday evening) and asked him to give me a tour of the Courts of Justice, in a fine neo-classical building erected in the 1970s).

The magistrate invited me to lunch, phoning Ms. Richards to join us. He then received a call obliging him to investigate immediately the death of a German tourist at the Blue Grotto, a lovely place on the southern coast. While we waited for a cab, Justice Scalia and his entourage swept into the courthouse for a meeting. Finally, the magistrate, Ms. Richards and I got a cab and headed south. The magistrate’s investigation found that a middle-aged German woman had ventured too close to a ledge, had been swept away by a wave and, despite a daring rescue attempt, had drowned. Judge Montebello joined us, and we ate at a restaurant overlooking the hearse parked high above the rocky shore.

Whew! And then, that evening, I attended a reception for Justice Scalia at the ambassador’s residence. I saw a lot of drinking, dancing and smoking of Cuban cigars. But the good cheer exchanged by Messrs. Paolino and Cianci, however startling, may have reflected more diplomacy than politics. I returned to Rhode Island none the wiser as to who will run for Congress in the First District this year.

***

Copyright © 1996. LMG Rhode Island Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Record Number: MERLIN_457892

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Out-of-country Cianci tale

  1. Pingback: Modernizing Malta – awk! | Architecture Here and There

  2. Paul Lancia says:

    An excellent story David and one may believe that you have omitted the most interesting of details. Maybe Maria and I can pry them out of you over coffee one day in the near future.
    The rivalry between Joe P and Buddy was more fodder than substance. They both needed and respected each other despite any political and “other” differences they may have had. As evidenced since Buddy’s return from his government sponsored exile, Joe P proved to be Buddy’s staunch supporter, providing logistical and other personal assistance, from the day of his return to Rhode Island to his untimely passing.
    Buddy leaves a large footprint for his mayoral successors. Each mayor shall be judged on two levels, one of them being the “Buddy test”. (Did the mayor accomplish as much as former Mayor Vincent Cianci?) In most cases, all will fail. We (long term Providence) all knew Buddy and had contact with Buddy. I prefer to remember Buddy as the Mayor sitting in and almost empty Capricio’s with his power broker friends, Jake and Joe P, Sr one late snowy night inviting two young ambitious businessmen to their table for a drink and to listen to their stories. One drink turned into more and that night that my brother and I shared their company shall forever be part of my memory.

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    • Yes, Paul, let’s do that. My own take on Buddy is that his cheerleading was more than just that, a vital pushing and publicizing without which much of what was done to revive downtown Providence might not have happened. I think he generally takes too much credit for what was accomplished. So many at so many levels of government and the private sector were involved. Bill Warner!!! In many cases Buddy’s inability to refrain from inserting himself into policy and personnel decisions made the projects of the revival more difficult to accomplish. On the other hand, he was a genius at finding dodgy ways to fund things in a pinch.

      And as far as the “Buddy test” is concerned, his shoes will be hard to fill. His personality and his moxie gave Providence national exposure. What he did was far more than any mayor accomplished, I believe, since Doyle. On the other hand, it is a low bar because the accomplishments of his immediate predecessors were so meagre (and in some cases – Reynolds! Doorley! – thankfully so). His successors, except for Paolino in the ’80s, have been total shrimps. Cicilline! Taveras! Elorza (so far)! Give us a break. Almost makes us yearn for the Budster.

      So, a mixed but imposing legacy. A rival for Lovecraft’s “I am Providence.” I first met Buddy back in ’85 or ’86 at Oliver’s (a seedy place on Brook). Steve O’Rourke and I walked in and there he was at a table by himself drinking alone. Little did we know!

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  3. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” My thoughts and prayers to our Mayor.

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