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