Op-Ed: And That's The Way It Is...

A Letter from Buddy as He Turns 80

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It feels like a lifetime since I was Mayor. And I’ve missed you.

Now, I won’t say whether I’m looking down on everyone…or looking up…so that way I’ll only disappoint half of you. Hint: Turns out they use toupees for sizing halos. Second hint: But they also throw them in whenever they need the extra heat. But regardless of where I am, I always make it a point to always stay up-to-date on the city I love.  (Thanks to Dan Yorke, who has filled my radio time slot valiantly, and all of the shows that still reflect on “What would Buddy have done?”)

First, for those of you who were too young or too new to Providence, I’m sure that you’ve heard the stories of my tenure in City Hall. They said that I would go to the “opening of an envelope” – and I would. I’ll bet if your parents or grandparents are from Providence, somewhere they have an actual photograph (not one of those phone pictures) of them with me from one of the tens of thousands of Little League openings, birthday parties, or events that I attended. 

Much is legend and much more is lore. But what is undeniable is that most of the Providence that you see and enjoy today was done under my leadership. When I came into office, the city was in shambles – in fact, the night of my first inauguration the monkeys escaped from the Zoo. But we had great vision and spirit, and we got people to take pride in Providence. We were progressive…to a point, but didn’t kowtow to every small group that had an idea or wanted change for the sake of change.

I know that it’s been a tough year for all of you in my city with the pandemic, and I can sadly report far too many Providence residents have been stopping by to visit me. Happily, better times are coming. 

I wouldn’t have made it through the quarantine. Eat in every night? No chance to bump elbows with my people? Zoom would have been when I showed up in your living room for a fast visit. I’d have lasted a month. Maybe. 

A tip of my hat, though, to former Governor Gina Raimondo for the way that she masterfully controlled and managed the press corps during her press “conferences”. In my day, the press seemed more relentless and wouldn’t have tolerated being controlled by anyone. There were 14 “actual” reporters covering just City Hall back then. Today, I don’t think there are even that many reporters left at the Providence Journal total.   

Whenever I’m asked what I am most proud of during my 20-plus years as Mayor (okay, so there was a five-year gap in the middle and yes there was a trip to New Jersey at the end), my answer is always the same: I helped take a tired northeast city which thought their best days were behind them – “a smudge on the way to the Cape” the Wall Street Journal called us – and was able to get everyone, my fans and my enemies, to start believing in themselves. And they did. And with the right leadership…far be it from me to criticize the living…you still can.

I’m glad that a sense of normalcy is returning with restaurants slowly getting back to normal, because I still have a lot of marinara sauce (or gravy, to some) that I need to move for my scholarship fund. Oh, how I miss Federal Hill!

I reached out to Lynn Singleton at PPAC to suggest that Buddy in the Balcony could replace Phantom of the Opera since I was such an incredible sell-out in The Prince of Providence at Trinity Rep that they’re bringing me back! In fact, I’m still such a draw I hear they’re thinking of putting me in A Christmas Carol.

Everybody has figured out a way to keep making money from my legacy except me. 

I want to see WaterFire return to the water, not in dumpsters in Burnside Park. That’s a spark that the city needs. And yes, I do know something about fire.

 I consider education my biggest failure. And that goes back 46 years! So, I was pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic when the State took charge of the Providence school system last year. Unfortunately, so far it reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.”

The situation for too long has represented a clear and present danger for our children and is too important for our City’s survival and growth. The State has a clear mandate, from almost all parties, to act aggressively to blow-up the entire system and rebuild it into one we can be proud of.

That’s it for now. I’m off to celebrate my 80th on April 30 with a nice scotch and a cigar, surrounded by a lot of people who have also passed sharing stories of “the good old days.” (Bruce Sundlun insists that I single him out.) I also hear that my old friend Joe Paolino just built a beautiful new hotel and named it after his mother Beatrice. Sort of made me wish I’d done something like that for my mother. Maybe I’ll talk to the powers that be and see if I can get Esther Sunday made a holiday.

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