A Shakespearean Tragedy Occurring Before Our Eyes--Admission Free

Alan Weiss

The great tragedians, from the Greeks, through the Bard, and to F. Scott Fitzgerald, specialized in larger-than-life characters who simultaneously engaged us and repelled us. Whether it was King Lear or Monroe Starr (The Last Tycoon), we had to watch and were mesmerized by the descent, even know we knew the destination, hoping against hope that we might be wrong. Would there be a last-minute escape, a deus ex machina to save the protagonist?

The psychology is the same as that which holds up the opposing lane of traffic because people just have to see the accident on the other side. We come hard-wired, it seems, with a certain amount of common voyeurism.

Mayor Buddy Cianci’s personal novel has reached the final chapter. The certainty is that he soon ceases to be Mayor, and the overwhelming likelihood is that he will thereafter be in jail once appeals are exhausted.

I watched the Mayor at the groundbreaking for Trinity’s new theater, sitting alongside the entire congressional delegation from Rhode Island: Senators Reed and Chafee, and Congressmen Kennedy and Langevin–not exactly a light-weight group. Everyone spoke well and appropriately. Yet the Mayor was the best of the lot. He is engaging and charismatic, and clearly loves the city and his role in its reclamation. ("Renaissance" is a bit much in any city that has this many strip clubs and saloons.) His Honor received a warm reception, and articulately embraced the crowd. And rightly so, since he has been instrumental in saving and then supporting Trinity Rep.

Yet this is a man who has no other life. He has neither close family nor intimate personal support group. He lives alone in a hotel room. He usually eats dinner in the same restaurant each night, and I’ve seen him there for lunch, as well. He does not own a car, and one reason for him to remain in office as long as possible is that he can retain his limo and driver. How else would he get around?

The Mayor is not in good physical shape. He drinks quite heavily, as can be witnessed at the Biltmore Bar almost daily. He smokes constantly. He is a gifted speaker and charismatic personality, but the one-liners are fewer now and with less velocity, and there is an aura surrounding him that his time has passed.

Is it overly dramatic to call this a great tragedy? After all, racketeering is not synonymous with unrequited love or huge, failed business gambles. A great deal of the press and several daily talk show hosts have eagerly narrated his fall, with what often seems like inappropriate brio.

Buddy Cianci is hardly the most venal politician in Rhode Island, or even the most selfish. Those awards would have to go to several stalwarts now serving in the state legislature. But nor is he the avatar of integrity that the Pells and Chafees have represented for so long in this state. He is, instead, Everyman, a street fighter who won far more than he lost and managed to extend his stay, if not his welcome, longer than anyone would have expected. We watch his fall, fascinated and horrified, because he is closer to all of us than either extreme of the inside, political hardliners or the patrician wealth.

These are not institutions of rehabilitation, but institutions of societal revenge. And that retribution is now not long in coming for the Mayor. His pulse and beat are the city. How will he survive?

And how will we?

Alan Weiss, Ph.D. is the author of 21 books and is a consultant and professional speaker on marketing and entrepreneurialism. Contact him at Alan@summitconsulting.com. Visit his web site for 60 indexed, complimentary articles and his monthly newsletter, "Balancing Act: Blending Life, Work, and Relationships" (http://www.summitconsulting.com).