PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo has had a change of heart about the late Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr.
After initially saying that she would not order the state flag lowered to honor Cianci, who died on Thursday, Raimondo reversed course Friday and said the flag will be lowered after all during the days of Cianci’s wake and funeral next month.
“Out of respect for the office he held for 20 years, we will be lowering the flag,” Raimondo told reporters at the State House.
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Raimondo also noted the state has paid similar tributes to previous mayors. In April 2010 then-Gov. Don Carcieri ordered state flags flown at half-staff in honor of the late Johnston Mayor William Macera, who’d ended his final term under a cloud because of a scandal at the state landfill.
“Upon reflection, I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Raimondo said of Cianci. “Talking to the General Assembly members who are from the Providence delegation, I think it’s the right thing to do.” She declined to directly answer a question about the optics of lowering the flag for a convicted felon, noting that “this is a time of mourning for him and his family.”
When asked Thursday whether she planned to lower the flag, Raimondo had told reporters: “No, I have no plans to do that. I think the appropriate place to do that would be in the city, and Mayor Elorza has lowered the [city] flag.” Her comments triggered an outcry of protest from Cianci fans on talk radio and social media.
Raimondo’s apparent struggle to figure out how to handle Cianci’s passing seemed to reflect the ambivalent feelings of many Rhode Island leaders, who don’t want to seem disrespectful to a historic political figure but also don’t want to overlook his tainted legacy following a 2002 corruption conviction. The statements about Cianci released by the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation were notably terse, and mostly confined to personal condolences rather than a discussion of his legacy.
“At this difficult moment, I hope his family and friends find peace and comfort in their memories of a unique personality and life,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Thursday. “This is a time for reflection. Clearly Buddy Cianci cared deeply about his native city.”
There was little love lost between Raimondo and Cianci, two politicians of different generations and very different approaches. Cianci was one of Raimondo’s toughest critics as host of his WPRO talk radio show, and in 2014 she had campaigned alongside his opponent, fellow Democrat Jorge Elorza, during the former mayor’s final failed comeback bid.
Meanwhile, new details emerged Friday morning about how Cianci will be laid to rest.
Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr., a close friend of Cianci’s, said Cianci will lie in repose at Providence City Hall, outside the mayor’s office, on Feb. 6 and 7 so mourners can pay their respects.
A funeral service is scheduled to be held at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence on Feb. 8 at 10 a.m., according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. Cianci will be buried at St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston alongside his late daughter, Nicole.
Cianci, who was 74 when he died, served as mayor for more than 21 years over two separate periods. He was twice forced from office by felony convictions, the second one for public corruption, but retained the affection of many Rhode Islanders – as evidenced by the 45% of the vote he won in his 2014 comeback bid.
REMEMBERING BUDDY:Share your thoughts & condolences
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesiSusan Campbell, Kim Kalunian and Andy Paskowski contributed to this report.