Buddy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Notorious Mayor

It’s pretty obvious that fanboys like nipples, fangirls like butts, and everybody likes a winner. Buddy Cianci is a winner, in or out of prison.

Who? Maybe most of us never heard of Buddy Cianci before this, but award-winning filmmaker Cherry Arnold has put together a riveting documentary to supply us with a story of relentless willpower, blinding ambition and political savvy, with a dash of violence.

They say all politics begins locally, and the life of Buddy Cianci proves it. Buddy was given a fine education including political studies and a law degree. This, together with a will so steely that it makes Hillary Clinton look like Pollyanna, enabled him to overcome gargantuan obstacles. I have a feeling if Buddy Cianci had been sent to Afghanistan on September 12, 2001, there would’ve been an Osama bin Laden smackdown by September 13th.

Coming out of virtually nowhere as Republican mayoral candidate in a Democratic stronghold long favored by Godfather types, Buddy’s formidable energy enabled him to be everywhere at once shaking both hands and wallets. By a pretty good margin, he defeated the opposition party that had been in power for over 30 years. He did it on an anti-corruption ticket not yet experiencing another old saying: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Cianci, whose love of his hometown proved to be greater than any other love in his life, was brought up on charges while he was Mayor for kidnapping and assaulting his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s lover. A bit old-fashioned, but effective nonetheless, especially the part about a lighted cigarette in the eye. He was sentenced to 5 years probation and, now a felon, he was forced to resign his office.

During this time of probation, he was given his own local talk show which turned out to be highly successful. Everybody loved Buddy. And when his probation was done, he ran for mayor of Providence again. And won again.

One of the other candidates, who later came to work for Cianci, said of him, “He could talk a dog off a meat truck.”

Ms. Arnold guides behind the scenes to see a man gifted with enormous charm, a brilliant mind and Seinfeldian wit. He’s pretty irresistible, even when he tells you he’s got a squirrel on his head.

His political connections were far-reaching and included then-president, Gerald Ford. Federal money began flooding into town. To Providence, which one resident called “a dump,” Buddy Cianci brought prosperity in the form of new businesses, theaters, museums, art centers, and a skating rink larger than that in Rockefeller Center. A depressed river area downtown was turned into a modern, well-designed asset attracting tourism from all over the world for it’s Fire and Water annual ceremony. But all good things come to an end. Eventually.

The FBI managed to tape several of Buddy’s colleagues accepting bribes allegedly in his name. He was ultimately found not guilty of 26 out of 27 charges, and convicted of one, RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). Like many Providence residents, I was actuallly pulling for his total acquital.

Buddy continued as mayor all the way up to the beginning of his 5-year sentence at a federal prison in New Jersey. One of the Special Features on the DVD is Buddy’s first interview after being released from prison in July 2007.

It’s not easy to stop talking about Buddy’s amazing achievements and ability to bounce back time and again. Each of’s reviewers gave the documentary well-deserved 5 Stars.

Narrated by James Woods, this is a telling story of real politics with just enough corruption and violence to satisfy.

Grade: A-

Director: Cherry Arnold
Running Time: 86 minutes
Studio: Laurel Hill Films
Official Website:
Acclaim: Best of Festival at Pacific Palisades Festival; Best Documentary Boston Film Festival, and Best Documentary Audience Award, Rhode Island International Film Festival.

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