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Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island) April 28, 2002, Sunday All Editions

 
Copyright 2002 Providence Publications, LLC  
Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island)

April 28, 2002, Sunday All Editions

SECTION: News; Pg. A-01

LENGTH: 1532 words

HEADLINE: THE PLUNDER DOME TRIAL - Cianci keeps reelection hopes alive during trial

BYLINE: SCOTT MacKAY Journal Staff Writer

DATELINE: PROVIDENCE

HIGHLIGHT:
* Although the pressure of the corruption trial is sometimes evident, the mayor continues to make his political rounds.

BODY:
You can tell when things aren't going well.

The raccoon circles around Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr.'s eyes deepen and darken. The draws on the Merit lights become staccato, the self-deprecating one-liners turn rueful.

And you can tell when Cianci thinks things are moving his way.

The rapier wit reappears, the moon face creases into a wide grin, the bounce in his step returns.

Everything about Cianci's seventh campaign for City Hall is dependent on what happens inside the granite federal courthouse in downtown Providence, where prosecutors are trying to put him behind bars for running a corrupt administration.

By day, federal prosecutors throw dirt at Cianci's administration. By night, Cianci races around the city working to keep the job that has framed his adult life.

Late last Wednesday night Cianci stood in the shadows at a going-away party at the Barnsider Restaurant for a Channel 10 reporter. When a reporter mentioned that Cianci's trial was the biggest in Rhode Island since Claus von Bulow, Cianci brightened momentarily, saying, "he got off."

He was quickly reminded that Von Bulow had to endure two trials to win his freedom. "Nobody should have to undergo this .. ' he said, his voice trailing off.

At this point, the campaign is all about the trial. What a difference a good day day in court makes.

Thursday night, Cianci was ebullient. That day, Richard Egbert, his lawyer, had punctured the credibility of prosecution witness David Ead. Cianci grinned as he parried with a yuppie, wine-sipping crowd on Federal Hill.

He drew waves of laughter with a self-deprecating joke about a blonde, a coat-check clerk and a party for a troupe of actors. "So I went to the cast party at the Hemenway restaurant," said Cianci. "I got there and I didn't know anybody; the cast was from Great Britain. They didn't know me. I was there about 20 minutes, I had a drink, I was standing by the coat rack. Then this beautiful blonde started to come over toward me. I said hey, the mayor hasn't lost his touch. Then she gave me a ticket that said 99 on it and handed me three bucks.

"So I went looking for the coat. I couldn't find it. I finally found the lady who really does the coats. I want everyone to know that I gave the blonde her coat and I gave the coat lady her $3, for those of you who doubt me," said Cianci.

That was one of many stops Thursday night. Cianci went from talking with Ruth Simmons, Brown University president, to dinner with the Laborers' International Union of North America and a chat with Arthur A. Coia, the former general president of the union.

At every stop, there are longtime backers who grasp his hand and lean in close to whisper personal words of support.

Said Rachel Johnson, a 20-year city employee, who was all smiles after a brief chat with Cianci at the union event, "He's a good man and he's a good mayor. I hope he wins this thing."

POLITICALLY, the most remarkable thing about the current corruption probe is that it has failed to generate any organized opposition to Cianci outside of the talk radio chatterers.

Back in the early 1980s, when a federal corruption investigation of Cianci's administration was under way, opponents gathered thousands of signatures in a serious attempt to recall him from office. That investigation occurred after the city had careened to the brink of bankruptcy, a huge Cianci tax increase and questions over his campaign's use of absentee ballots to win a close 1982 election.

At that time, criticism of the mayor was widespread, especially in the city's affluent East Side neighborhoods, where he became a figure of caricature and derision.

That federal City Hall probe yielded 30 indictments and 22 convictions, 16 of which ended in prison sentences. The feds never got Cianci, of course, but in a way he got himself.

On the evening of March 20, 1983, Cianci beat Raymond DeLeo, a Bristol contractor who was having an affair with Cianci's ex-wife Shelia. Cianci pleaded no contest to the assault charges and was sentenced to five years probabtion.

As a convicted felon, he was required to leave office. (He became a radio talk show host and won City Hall back in an astounding 1990 comeback.)

The city has changed in 20 years and not only because of the rejuvenated downtown, the new shopping mall, the uncovered rivers and the fancy restaurants. There is no longer any semblance of a two-party system; not one of the city's state representatives or City Council members is a Republican. Cianci, an independent, controls the remains of the GOP's city committee and has strong ties to city Democratic Party leaders through the public employee unions and his long record of favors dispensed and good deeds done.

The ethnic Irish-American political activists who were sworn enemies of Cianci in the 70s and 80s, when he defeated Democrat Frank Darigan, have made their peace with the mayor, due both to his ability to address neighborhood concerns and to his proclivity to install his former opponents on various payrolls.

The fruits of these practices were on full display last Wednesday at a campaign fund-raiser for City Councilman Terrence Hassett at Patrick's Pub, a neighborhood and political watering hole in the Smith Hill neighborhood near the State House.

It was an event thick with politicians and wannabes, mounds of rare roast beef and foaming pints of lager. As the Second Avenue Band played easy-listening style tunes, two of Cianci's announced opponents, State Rep. David Cicilline and former Rep. Keven McKenna, mingled with the crowd.

When it was Cianci's turn to speak, the room was rapt. No one cared that he told the same joke that Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse had used a half hour earlier. And no one cared that he was late.

"I want you all to know that I am very much a candidate for mayor of Providence," said Cianci, to cheers. "I want you to know I intend to win."

Cianci gave a windy tribute to the Irish in the history of Smith Hill's politics and praised Hasset, State Sen. Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. John McCauley, for helping a new generation of immigrants from Southeast Asia and Latin America settle into the area.

"They are treating newcomers to our community the way the Irish and the Italians would have liked to have been treated when they came here in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries," said Cianci.

Data from the 2000 census showed that 24,000 whites left the city in the 1990s. They were replaced by 37,000 members of minority groups. For the first time in its history, Providence is a majority minority city.

The center of ethnic political friction in Providence 30 years ago was Irish and Italian. Today the fight is between black and Hispanic voters, as the city's two biggest minority groups battle for legislative seats and other electoral spoils on the city's south side.

Always influential in city politics are the municipal unions representing police officers and firefighters, teachers and other city employees. Cianci has close ties to the union leaders, who have a history of being loyal and effective at turning out votes.

HOW THE TRIAL turns out will determine the field of candidates.

So far, the leading Cianci opponent is Cicilline, who has raised more than $200,000 and is running a spirited campaign focused on neighborhood needs that he asserts have been neglected under Cianci.

If Cianci gets convicted, or if the trial so badly damages his reputation that he looks unelectable, other candidates will jump in. Among those who might run if Cianci was out of the picture are former Democratic Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr., Providence Municipal Court Chief Judge Frank Caprio, an independent, lawyer Angel Taveras, a Democrat and leader in the Hispanic community and City Council President John Lombardi, a Democrat.

The tricky part here is the calendar. The deadline for candidate to file for the election is June 26. There may not be a verdict by that time, but the damage  of lack thereof  inflicted by the trial will be clear.

Public opinion surveys over the last year show that Cianci has a high job approval rating  63 percent in the January Brown University survey   but that half the voters believe he is dishonest, says Darrell West, Brown political scientist and pollster. (These polls have error margins of 5 percent.)

"The voters think he has done a good job, but they also think he is a crook," said West. "I think Cianci will lose the East Side ... on the corruption issue and the recent tax increase."

Cianci disagrees. "They (East Side voters) know what has happened in the city and what my administration has done."

Then there are the intangible factors that may loom large this year. The city's once-robust civic culture has declined; Providence general election voter turnout in the 2000 presidential election (43,338) was less than the 1974 Democratic mayoral primary turnout (44,600).

"This election will show whether people are willing to get off their sofas and do something," says McKenna, a lawyer who has run for mayor before and lost. "Maybe it will make people realize the impact of apathy."


GRAPHIC: * CITY HALL ON TRIAL - WEEK 1

Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. and three others are charged with racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, mail fraud and witness tampering. The allegations being presented in U.S. District Court cast a broad shadow of corruption over the mayor and his administration.

the mayor - Vincent A. Cianci Jr.

Cianci had an up-and-down week. He sat somberly during opening arguments on Tuesday, in which he was portrayed as the head of the ''Cianci criminal enterprise.'' He also appeared glum during much of the testimony on Wednesday and Thursday of the government's first witness, David C. Ead. But his mood brightened on Thursday afternoon, when his lawyer took the offensive on Ead. During a recess, he even autographed one courtroom watcher's spectator badge.

Meanwhile, the mayor continued to maintain a busy public schedule outside the courtroom. He even attended a farewell party for one of the television reporters covering his trial WJAR-Channel 10's Dan Jaehnig. It was Jaehnig who, after Cianci's indictment a year ago, asked the question that prompted the mayor's oft-quoted response, ''You're not going to find any stains on this jacket.''

the witness - David C. Ead

Ead, the lone witness last week, testified for just over three days.

Under direct examination from Asst. U.S. Attorney Richard W. Rose, Ead offered detailed descriptions of meetings that he says he had with the mayor to arrange three bribes. He testified that he subsequently delivered a $5,000 bribe to Cianci aide Artin H. Coloian to secure a city planning position for Christopher Ise and $10,000 to another Cianci aide, Frank E. Corrente, who is a co-defendant in the trial. He testified that he tried to broker another deal, in which Cianci agreed to a $10,000 bribe in return for approving the sale of two city-owned vacant lots to businessman Antonio R. Freitas, who was working undercover for the FBI. But that deal fell through. For his assistance, Ead testified, he was hoping that the mayor would give him a city job to qualify him for a pension and free health insurance.

Under tough cross-examination by Cianci's lawyer, Richard M. Egbert, Ead contradicted himself on certain details of the alleged bribery scams. Egbert sought to paint Ead as a greedy con artist who used the mayor's name to impress people he was shaking down. Egbert also attacked Ead's credibility and character, delving into Ead's frequent visits to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, his alleged participation in an insurance-fraud scheme, his alleged failure to pay taxes and his taking bribes for city tax favors. Ead fought back, insisting that he wasn't stringing people along for bribe money for himself, but that he was doing it ''for the mayor.''

the judge - Ernest C. Torres

Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres worked hard to keep the first week of testimony on track amidst a thicket of legal issues. He scheduled hearings on legal matters, which did not require the presence of the jury, at the beginning and end of the day and during breaks. He said on Friday that he wanted to maximize his use of the jurors when they were in the building.

Torres indicated his impatience with the frequent defense objections regarding the introduction of secret FBI videotapes, at one point holding a conference in chambers to iron out the matter and minimize further courtroom interruptions. And he voiced annoyance with a Providence Journal motion, which he denied, seeking media access to the tapes. The judge noted that it was the Journal's fourth motion regarding media access, and that ''it's starting to divert the court's time, energy and efforts dealing with this very difficult and complex case.''

And the judge, who couldn't restrain laughing himself at several comical exchanges between David Ead and Richard Egbert, reminded spectators at the end of the day Thursday that, ''This is not a sporting event.''

the lawyers - Lawyer

Richard W. Rose

In his opening statement to the jury, Asst. U.S. Attorney Richard W. Rose told jurors that Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. ran a criminal enterprise from his City Hall office and said that the mayor's former top aide and chief fundraiser, Frank E. Corrente, was ''the bagman.''

The bribes, Rose charged, ''went to Cianci, through Corrente.''

In outlining the government's case, Rose said that ''the purpose of Cianci's criminal enterprise was to enrich himself, personally and politically, usng bribery, extortion, mail fraud and witness tampering.'' He said, ''Cianci's criminal enterprise collected illegal contributions and cash in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks, jobs, leases and city contracts.''

The prosecutor also said that he would play a tape to the jury on which the mayor told a city official to lie to the FBI about the University Club affair. Cianci is charged with using his office to extort a free lifetime membership in the exclusive club, which had rejected him for membership, by ordering city officials to hold up building permits for a renovation.

Richard M. Egbert

Mayor Cianci's lawyer says the government's case against the mayor is based on witnesses who are ''liars, cheats and thieves.'' In his opening statement, Egbert praised Cianci as the steward of the ''so-called Renaissance City,'' a ''get-things-done'' mayor who is not corrupt. ; ; * TRIAL DAYS: Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. heads to court last Thursday, accompanied by his driver and chief of staff Artin Coloian. Below, the mayor, whose popularity remains high, waves from his limo.

JOURNAL PHOTOS , MARY MURPHY (left) GLENN OSMUNDSON (below)

 

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