Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Andrew Johnson: The First Test of Presidential Impeachment


The first suggestions that Andrew Johnson should be impeached were raised less than a week into his term as Vice President. On the morning of March 4, 1865, when he was to be sworn into office alongside President Abraham Lincoln, Johnson was suffering from typhoid fever. Meeting his his predecessor, Hannibal Hamlin, he drank a few whiskeys to try to combat the illness.

He apparently had a few too many. By the time Johnson was to give a brief address to the Senate, he was considerably drunk. Slurring his words, he delivered a rambling, incoherent, and overlong address boasting about his humble beginnings and his ultimate triumph over the Southern aristocrats who had looked down on him. At one point, Hamlin even pulled on Johnson's coattails in a futile effort to make him stop talking. After he finally wrapped up the address and took the oath of office, Johnson became so confused with his duty of swearing in the new senators that he turned the task over to a clerk.

The spectacle was all the more embarrassing because it came shortly before Lincoln's stately second inaugural address, which has endured as one of the great speeches of the Civil War. Senators were horrified by Johnson's performance; Senator Zachariah Chandler, a Republican from Michigan, recorded in his diary, "I was never so mortified in my life, had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight." Johnson was ridiculed in the press, with one article labeling him a "drunken clown."

Although Johnson showed no other signs of alcoholism beyond this public display, the speech led to rumors that he was a dipsomaniac. These gained further traction when Johnson, still suffering from typhoid fever, left the Senate for a few days. When he returned on March 11, there were suggestions that he had gone on a chaotic drinking spree. Some Republicans drafted a resolution calling for him to resign, and there was talk of impeachment as a way to remove him from the second highest office in the land.

Lincoln urged his colleagues to be calm, saying his Vice President was still getting accustomed to the job. "It has been a severe lesson for Andy, but I do not think he will do it again," he said.

Just a month later, Lincoln's reassurance would be put to the test as Johnson became President of the United States. Unfortunately, a rift between Johnson and the liberal wing of the Republican Party would quickly deepen, culminating in the first impeachment trial to affect a President of the United States.

Early life

Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 29, 1808. His father died when he was three years old, and seven years later he was apprenticed to a tailor named James Selby. After working for Selby for five years, Johnson abruptly abandoned the apprenticeship after a neighbor threatened to sue him and his brother, William, for throwing pieces of wood at her house.

Running away to South Carolina, Johnson worked for another tailor for two years. Here he fell in love with a girl and asked her to marry him, but her family objected to the pairing. Dejected, Johnson returned to Raleigh and asked Selby to take him back in. Although Selby had posted notices offering a reward for Johnson's return, he now refused the young man's request.

A notice posted by Selby seeking the return of Andrew Johnson and his brother (Source)

Johnson subsequently moved to Greenville, Tennessee, with his mother and stepmother. Assisted by his wife Eliza, whom he married in 1827, he began a self-education effort. He had also learned enough about the tailoring business to start his own business.

Before long, Johnson had entered politics. He was elected a town alderman in 1829, and as mayor of Greenville in 1834. He joined the state militia around the same time, winning the nickname of "Colonel Johnson" after achieving this rank. Johnson served in the Tennessee house of representatives from 1835 to 1837 and again from 1839 to 1841, when he was elected to the state senate. During his political career, he helped write a new state constitution that eliminated the property-owning requirement to vote or hold office.

Running as a Democrat in 1842, Johnson was elected to the first of five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this chamber, he came out against a number of spending initiatives including increases to soldiers' pay, accepting funds to start the Smithsonian Institution, infrastructure projects in the nation's capital, and funding to aid the victims and families of a cannon explosion on the USS Princeton that had killed eight people, including two Cabinet officials. Johnson was also opposed to plantation rule and protective tariffs. However, he did express support for the public funding of education.

These stances hint at Johnson's deep-seated hatred for the wealthy elite. He despised any organizations or people he saw as aristocratic, including military academies and future Confederate president Jefferson Davis, whom he said was part of the "illegitimate, swaggering, bastard, scrub aristocracy."

A depiction of Andrew Johnson in 1842, the year he was first elected to the House of Representatives (Source)

Some racist remarks are attributed to Johnson around this time. In 1844, he tacitly supported slavery by declaring that a black man was "inferior to the white man in point of intellect, better calculated in physical structure to undergo drudgery and hardship." His business was also successful enough that he bought a few slaves of his own. He proclaimed himself to be equally critical of both abolitionist and the most virulent pro-slavery plantation owners, saying both were driving the country toward war instead of reconciliation.

When it looked like a gerrymandering effort would threaten his seat in the House, Johnson ran for governor of Tennessee and was elected in 1852. His signature accomplishment during his time in office was the establishment of the first state law supporting public education through taxation. Although he won re-election against Know-Nothing candidate Meredith P. Gentry in 1856, he soon left the governor's office when the state legislature named him to the U.S. Senate.

During his time in the state house of representatives, Johnson had proposed a homestead bill to help Tennessee's poor residents acquire land to cultivate. He made a similar proposal in the Senate, advocating a bill to provide 160-acre plots. Although this bill passed in 1860, it was vetoed by President James Buchanan. Johnson would persist, pushing through the homestead bill in 1862.

Civil War

The long simmering tensions between the North and South finally came to a head in the election of 1860. Fearing that Lincoln would destroy the slave-based economy of the Southern states, many political figures below the Mason-Dixon Line threatened that secession would follow if the Republican candidate was elected President. Johnson sought to strike a balance, throwing his support behind Southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge. He also opposed secession and urged Tennessee to remain in the Union if Lincoln came to office.

Breckinridge swept the Southern states, but came far short of Lincoln's electoral total. As calls for secession increased, Johnson continued to advocate for unity. On December 18, just two days before South Carolina became the first state to break away, Johnson pleaded, "Let us exclaim that the Union, the Federal Union, must be preserved!"

The attack on Fort Sumter prompted more states to secede. Johnson traveled throughout Tennessee, making public appearances urging the state to remain loyal to the Union. It was a risky move; despite Johnson's status as an elected official, his stance on secession had become quite unpopular. Across the state, he was burned and shot in effigy. In one instance, Johnson's train was stopped by an angry mob out to lynch the senator; he was reportedly saved only at the intervention of Jefferson Davis. At one appearance, he responded to an angry and hostile crowd by calmly taking a pistol out of his pocket, placing it on the pulpit where it could be quickly taken up at the first sign of trouble, and continuing his address.

Johnson's efforts were for naught. Tennessee voted to secede on June 8, 1861, becoming the last state to leave the Union. Although elected officials typically withdrew from Congress after the secession of their state, Johnson was the only senator from the South to keep his seat. This show of support for the Union made him a popular figure in the North, but he was forced to live in Washington, D.C., to avoid being arrested in Tennessee. Although Eliza continued to live in Greeneville for a time, she too eventually moved to the nation's capital.

The exile was fairly short-lived. After Union troops captured Nashville on March 4, 1862, Lincoln named Johnson to be the state's military governor and awarded him the rank of brigadier general. Resigning from the Senate to take on this duty, Johnson returned to Tennessee to find that the Confederacy had branded him an "enemy alien," subsequently confiscating and selling his property.

Johnson was faced with considerable challenges in his role as military governor of Tennessee. He seized the Bank of Tennessee and records left behind by the fleeing Confederate government, reorganized the Nashville city government, and silenced secessionist newspapers. The Confederacy continued to hold portions of the state and made frequent raids into Union-held territory. In 1863, he was embarrassed when a civil election named a conservative pro-slavery candidate to succeed him. On Lincoln's orders, Johnson ignored the result. He also issued a requirement that Tennessee residents needed to take a loyalty oath to the Union in order to vote, and even then would have to wait six months before casting a ballot.

While governor, Johnson showed more sympathy to the idea of emancipating slaves. But he considered this to be more of a military measure, one which would help end the war by taking valuable resources from the aristocratic plantation owners who had encouraged the war. "Treason must be made odious and traitors punished," he declared at one point. At Lincoln's urging, he worked to incorporate black soldiers into Tennessee regiments to defend against Confederate raids, although these troops never received enough arms or support to become a reliable force.

With the presidential election of 1864 looking to be a particularly close one, the Republicans chose Johnson as a compromise candidate for Vice President to replace Hannibal Hamlin. During the campaign, Johnson also continued to show some resentment for the aristocrats. At one stop in Logansport, Indiana, he noted how his Democratic opponents had laughed him off as a "boorish tailor." Johnson said he took it as a compliment, since it showed how he had risen from humble roots to a successful political career. He held the principle that "if a man does not disgrace his profession, it never disgraces him." In one address, he cited certain plantation owners by name and suggested that the nation would be improved if their land was broken up into smaller plots worked by "loyal, industrious farmers."

Johnson also demonstrated more support for the idea of ending slavery. "Before the rebellion, I was for sustaining the Government with slavery; now I am for sustaining the government without slavery, without regard to a particular institution," he declared in an address at Louisville, Kentucky on October 13, 1864. "Institutions must be subordinate, and the Government must be supreme." In same address, says he supports "the elevation of each and every man, white and black, according to his talent and industry."

Eleven days later, Johnson emancipated Tennessee's slaves. This action, again taken at Lincoln's urging, was essentially a voluntary one; since Tennessee had come under control of the Union at the time the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, it was not considered to be in rebellion and its slaves had not been freed by the order. Johnson seemed particularly happy with emancipaction; on the same day he approved the action, he told a black audience in Nashville, "I will indeed be your Moses, and lead you through the Red Sea of war and bondage to a fairer future of liberty and peace."

Johnson even wanted to delay his inauguration until April so he could oversee the emancipation process in Tennessee, but Lincoln insisted that he be sworn in on schedule. Historians have noted that it was fortunate that Johnson agreed to take office when he did. If the office of Vice President was vacant at the time Lincoln was assassinated, the presidential succession may have been thrown into limbo.

Accession to President

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Johnson was woken and informed that Lincoln had been shot. The President lingered through the night before passing away the next morning. After scarcely a month as Vice President, Johnson was given the oath of office by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and became the 17th President of the United States.

An illustration showing Johnson being sworn in as President (Source)

It soon emerged that John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, was one of several conspirators aiming to kill a number of high-ranking Union officials in a coordinated assault. Johnson himself had been one of the targets; George Atzerodt had registered at his hotel and, after drinking plenty of alcohol, got cold feet and left without attempting to assassinate Johnson. Atzerodt was arrested soon after, and was one of four conspirators hanged for their role in the plot.

Shortly before his attack on Lincoln, Booth learned of Atzerodt's failure and made a last-ditch effort to frame Johnson as being part of the plot. He left a card for the Vice President with the message, "Don't wish to disturb you. Are you still at home? J. Wilkes Booth." However, this card was instead picked up by Johnson's secretary, who had met Booth after one of his performances and mistakenly thought the card was for him.

Although the process of the disbanding and surrender of Rebel armies was ongoing at the time of Lincoln's death, the Confederacy had essentially ceased to exist. Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia five days before Lincoln was shot, and Jefferson Davis would be captured by Union troops about a month later. Johnson was enraged by the conspirators' attack on the Union government, and for a time seemed bent on revenge. He considered pursuing treason charges against the former Confederate military and political leaders, and was only dissuaded at the urging of Ulysses S. Grant.

This pugnacious attitude helped convince the Radical Republicans that Johnson would be a helpful ally in the postwar Reconstruction era. This political faction would be defined by their pursuit of full emancipation and civil rights for ex-slaves. They had been somewhat disappointed by Lincoln's support of gentler forms of repatriation and occasional hindrance of larger reforms. For example, he opted not to sign the Wade-Davis Bill to enforce Reconstruction efforts with federal troops and readmit Southern states only after they agreed to protect the rights of freedmen; instead, he killed the 1864 legislation with a pocket veto.

Senator Ben Wade, a Radical Republican from Ohio and a co-sponsor of the Wade-Davis Bill, declared to the new President, "Johnson, we have faith in you. By the gods, there will be no trouble now in running this government." Such feelings would be short-lived.

Falling out with the Radicals

On May 29, 1865, Johnson issued two proclamations outlining his plans for Reconstruction. The first issued a pardon and a promise of amnesty for any ex-Confederates who were willing to take an oath of loyalty to the Union and pledge to support the emancipation of slaves in the South. He also named William W. Holden as the provisional governor of North Carolina and directed him to amend the state constitution. Similar proclamations were made for other Confederate states, but made no request for a change in voting rules. This meant that black men were still excluded from the ballot box.

In one area, Johnson seemed keen to levy some punishment on the former Confederates. The wealthiest landowners in the South, namely those with estates worth $20,000 or more, would be required to seek individual pardons. It seemed clear that Johnson was relishing the opportunity to have the high and mighty aristocrats groveling before him for forgiveness. Even with this condition, Johnson still agreed to return the land of most plantation owners who made an appeal and grant them a pardon.

Most notably, Johnson failed to intercede when the South made blatant efforts to return Confederate officials to power. The Confederate vice president, along with four generals and five colonels from the Confederate army, were all elected to Congress after the war. Johnson also took no actions when Southern governments began imposing stringent "black codes" to strip the civil rights of black citizens. These included vagrancy laws to have idle black residents arrested and put to work; in short, a de facto form of slavery.

There were signs that whatever support Johnson may have had for emancipation and equality had cooled. He told one group of African-Americans, "The time may soon come when you shall be gathered together in a clime and country suited to you, should it be found that the two races cannot get along together." His private secretary, William G. Moore, recorded that Johnson displayed a "morbid distress and feeling against negroes." In a December 1867 message to Congress, he would remark that "negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people" and were more likely to "relapse into barbarism."

Some historians have suggested that Johnson was not trying to impede the progress of ex-slaves so much as he was trying to keep any Reconstruction efforts within the boundaries set by the Constitution. In his veto of the Civil Rights Act, he said it "contains provisions which I can not approve consistently with my sense of duty to the whole people and my obligations to the Constitution of the United States." When he vetoed a bill to extend the mission of the Freedmen's Bureau, which was assisting former slaves displaced in the wake of emancipation, Johnson reasoned that it was federal encroachment on a state issue and an improper use of the military during peacetime; he also argued that it would hinder ex-slaves from being able to sustain themselves, and said there were no similar provisions for poor white men who had been harmed by the war.

An 1866 political cartoon depicts Johnson using a veto to boot the Freedmen's Bureau (Source)

Johnson agreed with the Radical Republicans on some issues. In particular, he thought that some individual rebels should be punished and that new state governments established in the South should meet certain conditions before the states were formally reabsorbed into the Union. However, he also thought that some of the proposed Reconstruction programs would benefit landowners more than freedmen.

The Radical Republicans were less than pleased at Johnson's acquiescence to the status quo in the South. The former Confederate states were quick to return ex-Confederates to power, some before they had even received a pardon. The political faction was also appalled when, in the summer of 1865, Johnson ordered the Freedmen's Bureau to return abandoned plantation lands to their former owners. In several cases, these lands had already been divided up and distributed to former slaves. While Johnson had originally been welcomed as a leader who would deal firmly with the rebellious states, he was now praised among Southern Democrats as a President who would protect them against the Republican agenda and preserve white supremacy in the region.

At the end of the year, Johnson declared that the work of Reconstruction was complete. The Radical Republican resistance mobilized quickly. Led by Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, they refused to recognize members of Congress sent by states who had seceded from the Union. They also created a Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which began working on the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent Southern states from getting a numerical advantage in Congress by excluding black residents from the population count if they weren't allowed to vote.

In a President's Day message in 1866, Johnson complained that the committee was concentrating the government power accompanying Reconstruction into a tiny fringe group. He also said this approach would make the more moderate and conservative Republicans less likely to support his administration.

Radical Republicans passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 in the spring, targeting the black codes in the South and granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Johnson vetoed the legislation, saying it was "made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race." In the first instance of Congress overriding a veto on a major piece of legislation, and by a margin of a single vote in the Senate, Congress overrode the veto to enact the bill. During his time in office, 15 of Johnson's 29 vetoes would be overturned, the most of any U.S. President. These bills included statehood for Nebraska and voting rights of black residents of Washington, D.C.

The most noticeable split between Johnson and the Radical Republicans occurred after he opposed ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although he was distrusted by both Democrats and Republicans, the President tried to rally moderate members of both parties in a separate Union Party before the 1866 elections. During a "swing around the circle" campaign to rally support for this effort, he frequently traded insults with hecklers and made embarrassing statements; in one, he suggested that divine intervention had removed Lincoln from office so he could ascend to the White House. After this disastrous campaign, Republicans easily won majorities in both houses of Congress.

Once the new Congress was sworn in, they quickly passed the Reconstruction Act. This legislation divided the former Confederate states into five military districts and installed new governments to oversee the process of bringing the South back into the Union. Johnson vetoed the bill, but the Radical Republican majority easily overturned it.

Another bill passed over the President's veto was the Tenure of Office Act, which made it illegal for the President to dismiss any appointees who had been approved by the Senate without first getting Senate approval. This bill was essentially an effort to head off any effort Johnson might make to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Lincoln appointee who was allied with the Radical Republicans, and replace him with someone who would guide the military element of Reconstruction in a way that was more in line with Johnson's views. Stanton had already undermined Johnson to some extent, telling Grant he could still continue to impose martial law in the South as needed even after Johnson declared the war officially over, raising the question of whether martial law was still legal. Stanton also vowed to stay in office, saying he considered Johnson to be a man "led by bad passions and the counsel of unscrupulous and dangerous men."

Dismissal of Stanton

Edwin Stanton (Source)

In January 1867, Republican Representative James Ashley of Ohio made the first formal move toward impeaching the President by proposing an inquiry into Johnson's official conduct. He made a number of allegations against Johnson, including suggestions that he had had a role in Lincoln's assassination and that he had sold pardons to former rebels, but offered no proof for these accusations. In June, the House Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 against approving any articles of impeachment.

However, the Republican attitudes toward Johnson soon hardened. During a congressional recess in August, Johnson took the opportunity to remove some of the more vigorous Reconstruction commanders from their posts. He also asked for Stanton to step down, declaring that "public considerations of a high character constrain me to say, that your resignation as Secretary of War will be accepted." Stanton shot back, "Public considerations of a high character, which alone have induced me to continue at the head of this department, constrain me not to resign." Johnson responded by suspending Stanton and appointing Grant as an interim war secretary in the hopes that he would be more aligned with his views.

In November 1867, the Judiciary Committee reversed itself and approved an impeachment resolution in a 5-4 vote. Representative John Churchill of New York said several matters in recent months had swayed him, including Johnson's statements denouncing Reconstruction efforts, his veto of a third Reconstruction bill, his dismissal of military officers overseeing Reconstruction, and his suspension of Stanton. The majority report made a number of criticisms of the President, saying his lenient attitude toward former rebels was helping to stoke violent incidents in the South, such as a race riot in New Orleans that killed scores of black men demanding the right to vote.

But the report was fairly general in its denunciations. Representative Thomas Williams, the Pennsylvania Republican who chaired the Judiciary Committee, said he did not think impeachment was possible under the circumstances of Johnson's alleged misdeeds as well as the constraints of the Constitution. Although 57 Republicans favored the impeachment resolution in a vote before the full House, 68 joined with 38 Democratic colleagues to oppose it. Another 22 congressmen did not vote on the measure.

On January 11, 1868, the Senate made a move to return Stanton to his post. In a 35-6 decision, they voted to restore him as Secretary of War. Grant did not protest the decision, and soon became embroiled in a battle with Johnson over the question of whether he had supported the President's effort to unseat Stanton. Grant charged that Johnson had sought his help in violating the Tenure of Office Act. This brought on another impeachment effort, led by Stevens, but the Committee on Reconstruction tabled this measure in a 6-3 vote.

Johnson was still itching to get Stanton out of his Cabinet. He offered to name the renowned Civil War general William T. Sherman as an interim War Secretary, but Sherman declined. On February 21, he settled on Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, an opponent of Stanton. Johnson issued one letter appointing Thomas as the interim Secretary of War and a second informing Stanton that he had been removed from office.

Instead of leaving, Stanton ordered Thomas arrested for illegally taking office. He quickly found support from the Republicans in Congress. A Senate resolution, passed in a 29-6 vote, stated that Johnson's action was beyond his power.

Once Thomas was released on bail, he too firmly held that he held the legal right to the office. For a time, the country essentially had two Secretaries of War. Many veterans and militiamen vowed to uphold the legitimacy of one man or the other, sparking fears that the squabble might lead to violence.

A political cartoon showing Stanton preparing to attack Johnson and Lorenzo Thomas, using a cannon labeled "Congress" and the Tenure of Office Act as a rammer. (Source)

The attempted removal of Stanton proved to be enough to get an impeachment effort off the ground. Some in Congress sided with Johnson, accusing the Radical Republicans of overstepping their authority and inflaming sectional divides, but the majority held that Johnson had been the one to exceed the power of his office. On February 24, the House of Representatives voted 126-47 to pursue impeachment. The confrontation with Stanton was the inciting issue, although Stevens suggested that Johnson had also bribed Grant by offering to pay any fine levied against him for violating the Tenure of Office Act by serving as Secretary of War.

There were some suggestions that impeachment was unnecessary. Johnson had no hope of capturing the GOP's presidential nomination, which Republicans expected would go to Grant, so the President had just over a year left in office. "Why hang a man who is bent on hanging himself?" Horace Greeley asked in the New York Tribune. For the Radical Republicans, however, a greater issue was at stake. Johnson could easily wreak havoc on the Reconstruction efforts in his final year in office; by removing him, they would remove that threat.

Impeachment

On March 2, the House of Representatives approved the first article of impeachment against Johnson. Two more articles were passed the next day. Ultimately, the House would seek to remove Johnson based on 11 offenses. It was the first time a President had been impeached. The Constitution states that impeachment can take place if an official is found guilty of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors;" it would fall to the Senate to decide whether Johnson's behavior was enough to convict him on any of the charges and remove him from office.

Nine of the articles of impeachment were essentially different ways of accusing Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act. The tenth listed a number of inflammatory comments Johnson had made about Congress, charging that the remarks "brought the high office of the President of the United States into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace." The final article was a general summary of the charges against Johnson.

There were enough Republicans in the Senate to convict Johnson on any one of these articles of impeachment and remove him from office. But there was also a certain degree of reticence among the GOP senators. The office of Vice President had been vacant since Johnson was sworn in; as president pro tem of the Senate, Benjamin Wade would be next in line to be President if Johnson was removed. Some Republicans were less than enthusiastic about this possible accession, since they saw Wade as being too liberal on Reconstruction issues to prevail in the upcoming presidential election; others disagreed with Wade's economic policies, which included support for high tariffs.

Chief Justice Salmon Chase, who had sworn Johnson in just a few years earlier, would now oversee the impeachment trial in the Senate. Johnson did not attend personally, but spoke to the press on several occasions to offer remarks on the proceedings. Representative Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, a former Civil War general, led the prosecution. Attorney General Henry Stanbery resigned to lead Johnson's defense team,which included three other lawyers who volunteered their services.

An illustration of an impeachment hearing for Johnson (Source)

Butler called 25 witnesses during the trial. The crux of his argument was that Johnson had acquiesced to the Tenure of Office Act by initially following it, but then knowingly violated it by removing Stanton from office. He also blamed Johnson for the unrest in the South, saying his lenient attitude toward former Confederates had emboldened white racists into making violent attacks on black residents and others.

However, Butler also made a number of missteps over the five days of presenting his case. One passage earned a good deal of criticism by telling the senators that they were "bound by no law, either statute or common," but were rather "a law unto yourselves, bound only by natural principles of equity and justice." The prospect of a trial to decide the fate of the President was so exciting that public admission to the galleries was by ticket only, but the testimony soon became tedious. One press account declared the fourth day of Butler's prosecution to be "intensely dull, stupid, and uninteresting."

An admission ticket to the impeachment trial for Johnson (Source)

Johnson's attorneys figured that the nine Democrats and three pro-Johnson Republicans in the Senate would vote for acquittal. In order to deprive the vote of the two-thirds majority necessary to convict Johnson, they would need to convince seven Republicans to vote against impeachment. The defense called 16 witnesses to support its case.

The defense focused on the validity of the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson's lawyers argued that the President had no obligation to retain Stanton since he wasn't Johnson's own appointee. Ben Curtis, a former Supreme Court justice and one of Johnson's defenders, pointed out how the bill initially didn't extend to Cabinet officers. The defense also suggested that Johnson may have simply misinterpreted the law, and that he had the right to test the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act and have the matter heard before the Supreme Court. Thomas, they reasoned, had simply been appointed to keep the War Department staffed in the interim. The defense also suggested that the impeachment effort against Johnson wasn't motivated by any serious "high crimes and misdemeanors," but rather by the rancorous relationship between the President and Congress.

In the midst of the proceedings, Johnson consulted with his supporters and decided to blunt the impeachment effort by naming a compromise candidate as War Secretary. On April 21, he offered the position to General John Schofield, a Civil War commander who had been helping to oversee the Reconstruction efforts. Another Johnson lawyer, William M. Evarts, promised that Johnson would cease his efforts to impede the Radical Republicans' policies on Reconstruction if he was acquitted.

The Senate took their first vote, on Article XI, on May 16. This was the catch-all summary of Johnson's misdeeds, and the tally was 35-19 in favor of conviction. It was one short of the two-thirds majority necessary to convict; the defense had been successful in swaying seven Republicans to their side. One GOP representative, James Grimes of Iowa, summed up his opposition by saying, "I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious workings of the Constitution for the sake of getting rid of an unacceptable President."

Ten days later, the Senate voted on the first and third articles of impeachment to see if any of the opposing Republicans had been swayed by the prosecution's arguments on the Tenure of Office Act. Both votes failed to convict Johnson in the same 35-19 split. As it appeared that the divide would not change on any of the remaining eight articles, no further votes were taken.

The narrow margin of the acquittal raised suspicions that bribery had been employed to convince just enough senators to vote against conviction. Butler set up an impromptu committee to investigate the matter, interviewing dozens of witnesses and confiscating correspondence and bank records. The committee seemed particularly interested in Edmund Ross, a moderate Republican who had cast the deciding vote against conviction, but the committee ultimately finished its work without presenting any evidence of bribery.

End of term and later life

Following Johnson's acquittal, Stanton stepped down so Schofield could continue working as an undisputed Secretary of War. Johnson continued to spar with the Radical Republicans, vetoing bills related to Reconstruction and earning condemnation for his failure to provide federal protection for black residents and white Unionists who were subject to violent attacks in the South.

Although Johnson harbored no expectations that the Republicans would support him as their presidential pick for the 1868 ticket, he did believe that the Democrats were likely to choose him. Instead, they selected Governor Horatio Seymour of New York. A disappointed Johnson endorsed to be his successor. Grant was chosen as the Republican nominee and easily won the election.

The Tenure of Office Act was sidelined during Grant's presidency, with Congress giving him the ability to fire Cabinet appointees and lower level officials without Senate approval. The act was repealed in 1887, during the presidency of Grover Cleveland. The Tenure of Office Act was referenced several decades later when the Supreme Court took up the case of Myers v. United States. In a 6-3 decision in 1926, the justices ruled that President Wilson had the authority to remove a postmaster from office without Senate approval and that the Tenure of Office Act had been unconstitutional.

Returning to Tennessee, Johnson was soon vying to return to politics. Running as a Democrat, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Senate in 1869 and the House of Representatives in 1872. He was successful in his next bid for Senate, in January 1875, becoming the only President so far to return to serve in this chamber.

Lincoln's other Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, was also a member of this Senate, along with several of the same people who had tried to oust him from the White House seven years earlier. After taking the oath of office, Johnson denied rumors that he would try to fulfill any sort of vendetta against these senators. "I have no enemies to punish nor friends to reward," he declared.

Johnson's time in the Senate was short-lived. He served only from the start of his term on March 5 to the end of a special session on March 24. On July 31, at the age of 66, he died of a stroke near Elizabethton, Tennessee.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The National Governors Association, "Andrew Johnson, 16th Vice President" at Senate.gov, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (National Parks Service), "The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson" at Senate.gov, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson by David O. Stewart, The Presidents of the United States by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey, The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson by Chester G. Hearn, Andrew Johnson by Kate Havelin, The American Presidency, edited by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer, Reconstruction: A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic edited by Richard Zuczek

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Buddy Cianci: Intimidation, Cronyism, and Renewal


Few could doubt that the mayor of Providence was deeply invested in the city. Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., nicknamed "Buddy," spearheaded several efforts to revitalize the city and turn it into an attractive metropolis. It wasn't hard for residents to see the mayor in person; he was a frequent guest at Providence Bruins hockey games, and could even be found chatting with spectators at Little League games.

But Cianci was a polarizing figure as well. Throughout his time in office, several people close to the mayor found themselves behind bars. Cianci himself had to cut one term short after brutally assaulting a man. Critics considered him little more than a glad-handing thug.

Judge Ernest C. Torres would reference the competing aspects of Cianci's character while sentencing him on corruption charges in 2002. Torres compared the mayor to Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"The first Buddy Cianci is a skilled charismatic political figure, one of the most talented Rhode Island has ever seen, someone with wit who thinks quickly on his feet and can enthrall an audience," the judge said. "Then there's the Buddy Cianci who's portrayed here. That's the Buddy Cianci who was mayor of an administration that was corrupt at all levels."

Early life

Cianci's yearbook photo from the Moses Brown School (Source)

Born on April 30, 1941, Cianci had a comfortable upbringing as a proctologist's son in Cranston, Rhode Island. He attended the Moses Brown School, a preparatory school in Providence, where he joined the football and wrestling teams. He started his college education at St. Louis University, but after a semester he transferred to a school closer to home. He completed his undergraduate studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut, earning a degree in political science.

Cianci went on to earn a master's degree from Villanova University and a law degree from Marquette University. He was drafted into the military after law school and was set to deploy to Vietnam when his father passed away. Cianci was allowed to stay stateside, spending most of his three-year Army service at Fort Devens in Massachusetts.

After his discharge, Cianci returned to Rhode Island and opened a private practice. Before long, he was selected to serve as the chief prosecutor of an anti-corruption task force established by the state's attorney general in 1973 to go after organized crime.

Cianci would play a particularly effective part in bringing down Providence mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Another mobster, Rudolph Marfeo, had been gunned down in 1969 just one month after Patriarca was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Marfeo's brother. Prosecutors suspected that Patriarca had been involved in the killing of the other sibling as well.

Raymond Patriarca (Source)

Patriarca had an alibi. He claimed that a Washington, D.C. priest had been visiting his company at the time of Marfeo's death. It seemed almost too good to be true: a man of the cloth who was ready to testify to the innocence of a criminal kingpin.

Cianci found a way to undercut the defense's case. Examining the parish records, he found that the official record showed the priest had not been in Rhode Island on the day of Marfeo's murder, but was actually attending a baptism in Virginia. Patriarca's alibi was shattered. He would be convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The "anti-corruption candidate"


Cianci is sworn into office (Source)

Following his performance on the anti-corruption task force, Cianci parlayed his local fame into a mayoral run. Providence was a staunch Democratic stronghold, but a fortuitous division opened up during the election year of 1974. Lawrence P. McGarry, head of the city's Democratic committee, refused to endorse incumbent mayor Joseph A. Doorley, Jr., who had served in the role for 10 years.

Doorley forged on without the nomination, but the split with McGarry fractured a decades-old political machine in the city. Running as an "anti-corruption candidate" in the general election, Cianci won a stunning upset. As the Republican candidate, he edged out Doorley by 709 votes out of more than 52,000 ballots cast. He was the first Italian-American mayor to be elected mayor of Providence as well as the city's youngest mayor and the first Republican to hold the office in more than 30 years.

Many years later, Cianci admitted in his autobiography that he was inexperienced and completely unprepared for the job. "Maybe I didn't know precisely what I was doing, but I was confident I could save the city," he said.

The razor-thin victory in a strongly Democratic city in New England made Cianci something of a celebrity within the Republican party. He was able to get an audience with President Gerald Ford, and in 1976 he gave a brief speech at the Republican National Convention before introducing former Texas governor John Connally.

Buddy Cianci at the 1976 Republican National Convention (Source)

Cianci would dedicate much of his time in office to reimagining the former industrial city of Providence into a commercial and tourist center. More than $200 million would be invested in new commercial and office buildings during his term. During his first week as mayor, monkeys escaped from the city's decrepit Roger Williams Park Zoo. In 1976, he earmarked millions of dollars to improve the facility.

But while Cianci would earn a reputation as a tireless advocate for Providence, he also contemplated leaving office before he had served a full term as mayor. As the 1976 election approached, he contemplated challenging incumbent Senator John Chafee for the Republican nomination for the seat. He ultimately decided against it.

By the time Cianci was up for re-election in 1978, he was facing a number of challenges. There were accusations that he had been coercing the Providence Police Department to hire unqualified candidates. Earlier in the year, Police Chief Robert E. Ricci had shot himself in his office. Edward J. Collins, a police captain who would later unsuccessfully run for mayor, blamed Cianci for the suicide.

It was an open secret that Cianci rewarded his supporters with city jobs. James Diamond, a mayoral aide, recalled that Cianci asked him to set up a computer database of every Providence resident in 1975. He figured the technology could be useful in assessing their loyalties and determining where to mete out rewards or punishments. Diamond never carried out this request.

The city had also fared poorly during the Blizzard of 1978, which had dumped more than 30 inches of snow on Providence. When the public works department tried to respond to the storm, few of its snowplows were in working condition; those that worked weren't even able to break out of the department's parking lot. A contingent of Seabees from North Kingstown eventually had to open up the streets, long after other communities in New England had managed to dig themselves out. Critics charged that Cianci's patronage system had left the public works department woefully mismanaged during the crisis.

Vehicles abandoned on Providence highway after the Blizzard of 1978 (Source)

Perhaps most damaging of all was a cover story run by New Times magazine in 1978. In the article, a woman accused Cianci of raping her at gunpoint in 1966 while he was a student at Marquette. She said she withdrew her criminal complaint in exchange for a $3,000 payment from Cianci so she wouldn't sue. Sources at the River Falls Police Department in Wisconsin told New Times that Cianci had flunked a lie detector test three times while the woman had passed.

Denouncing the story as an "ugly character assassination," Cianci pressed a $72 million libel lawsuit against the magazine. In legal filings, he admitted that he had slept with the woman, that there was a gun in the house at the time, and that he paid her $3,000 after she dropped her complaint. It was enough for the court to dismiss the matter, but Cianci pressed an appeal. The case was settled out of court for $8,500 and an official letter of apology from New Times, which conceded that both the district attorney and Cianci's lawyer in the matter concluded that no crime had occurred.

Despite these scandals, Cianci won a second term when he defeated Democratic candidate Frank Darigan with 56 percent of the vote. But his administration was soon tarnished by new revelations of corruption. Prosecutors charged 30 city workers and contractors with criminal activity, namely conspiracy and fraud; 22 would be convicted. Cianci denied any knowledge of this misconduct and was never charged.

Cianci celebrates his 1978 win with his wife, Sheila (Source)

Cianci pondered whether to put his name into consideration as a vice presidential candidate for the 1980 election. He met with Ford as well as Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, but ultimately decided to turn his sights to a local race.

In the Rhode Island gubernatorial election for 1980, Cianci challenged Governor Joseph Garrahy, the Democratic incumbent who was completing his first term. The mayor won the Republican nomination, but performed disastrously in the statewide race. Under heavy criticism for his handling of Providence's finances, Cianci mustered barely a quarter of the total vote. Worse, he didn't even win a majority of votes in any of the wards in Providence, let along in any other city or town in Rhode Island.

Other developments seemed to signal Cianci's inevitable defeat for re-election in 1982, if he even decided to enter the race. In March 1981, the mayor made the unpopular proposal to raise property taxes by 20 percent to avoid bankruptcy. Outraged residents called for his resignation, and the city council began considering whether an ordinance should be drafted to allow voters to remove elected officials from office.

Poor fiscal management in the Cianci administration had helped bring the city to the brink of insolvency in the first place. Opponents charged that the mayor had avoided more manageable tax increases in previous years for political reasons, had only hired a financial director after leaving the post vacant for three years, and had hired four times as many summer recreational workers as he had been authorized to do. While Cianci managed to put $100 million in state and federal funds toward revitalizing the city in his first two terms, these funds were facing cutbacks. The city also had to deal with the challenges of inflation and a declining population.

Things only got worst in July 1981, when municipal workers went on a 16-day strike in response to cutbacks in overtime pay and other austerity measures. The protest earned the nickname "The Great Garbage Strike" for its most pungent feature: heaps of uncollected trash ripening in the summer heat. Cianci responded by firing the striking garbagemen and hiring private crews to collect the refuse.

Tensions were high enough that these workers feared that the union men would use tractor-trailers to ram their garbage trucks. Shotgun-wielding police officers accompanied the private workers on their runs, which were conducted at night in an effort to avoid confrontation. The tactic was successful in stemming violence, aside from one angry union garbageman who smashed into one of the city trucks with his own pickup. At the end of the strike, the union won some concessions but trash collection remained privatized.

Cianci speaks with a police officer accompanying private garbage collectors during a strike of municipal workers in 1981 (Source)

A widespread effort to repave streets and sidewalks throughout Providence in the summer and fall played a significant part in Cianci's re-election in 1982. There were accusations that the work was a blatant political gesture, and that the public works department would have done the upgrades sooner if it hadn't become a den of corruption and mismanagement. But voters may well have been reassured by the improvements.

A three-way race also helped tilt the odds in Cianci's favor. Running as an independent, he faced off against Darigan and Republican candidate Frederick Lippitt. He again squeaked through to victory, defeating Darigan by 1,074 votes out of approximately 55,000 cast to win a third term.

Assault on Raymond DeLeo

While he was a gregarious character in public, Cianci could be appallingly vindictive in private. One restaurant owner recalled that the mayor was enraged when a new bouncer at the venue insisted that he pay a $2 cover charge. Cianci retaliated by having the fire department shut down the eatery. The restauranteur said Cianci threatened, "You don't want to get into a pissing match with me, because you're a cup of water and I'm Niagara Falls."

In his autobiography, Cianci himself gleefully recalls a hair-raising if dubious act of thuggery. He suspected that Ronald H. Glantz, his chief of staff, had leaked information to Garrahy to sabotage his gubernatorial campaign. During a helicopter trip to an event where Cianci was scheduled to speak, he claimed to have seized the controls and forced the aircraft into a dive. As the chopper plummeted toward the ground, he angrily demanded that Glantz admit to the betrayal and didn't relent until his chief of staff did so.

Cianci's short-tempered side became clear with a violent incident in the spring of 1983. At this point, the mayor was estranged from his wife Sheila; the couple would later be divorced. Cianci became convinced that she was having an affair with a local contractor, Raymond DeLeo. On the evening of March 20, he asked DeLeo to meet him at his rented carriage house.

Raymond DeLeo (Source)

When DeLeo arrived at the mayor's home, it proved to be the start of a three-hour ordeal. He said the mayor kept him against his will and periodically assaulted him. DeLeo said that Cianci slapped him, struck him with a fireplace log, and burned him with a lighted cigarette after trying to put it out in his eye.

Several other men were present during these acts of violence, including James K. Hassett, a Providence patrolman who served as Cianci's driver; William McGair, Cianci's attorney; and Joseph DiSanto, the city's public works director. McGair eventually became perturbed by the mayor's behavior and called Herbert DiSimone, a former Rhode Island attorney general and friend of Cianci's. But the abuse continued even after DiSimone arrived and tried to talk some sense into Cianci. He reportedly threw an ashtray at DeLeo and threatened to kill the contractor or destroy his business unless he not only signed an affidavit confessing to an affair with Sheila, but also agreed to cut Cianci a check for $500,000. DiSimone eventually persuaded Cianci to let DeLeo go.

DeLeo reported the incident to the police, and his complaint became public on April 25. About a month later, on May 24, Cianci was indicted on two charges of extortion and one each of kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault and battery. One of the extortion charges accused the mayor of threatening Lenore Siegel Sternberg, a Florida resident, to get her to make a statement about the relationship between Sheila and DeLeo. Hassett was charged with kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnapping.

Cianci quickly sought to downplay the severity of the incident. He admitted that he may have made some intimidating gestures, but that he never actually harmed DeLeo. He may have picked up a log and thrown it angrily into the fireplace, he said, but he hadn't used it to strike the contractor. Cianci claimed that DeLeo had always been free to leave his home anytime he wished.

The mayor also griped that the incident was a "domestic matter" that never should have been brought before a grand jury. "Anyone can accuse if they've got something to hide or gain from it," he said. Cianci said he would refuse to resign his office.

Trial preparations began at the end of February 1984, at about the same time that several city employees were indicted on charges related to corruption in the public works department. Three days later, petitions were delivered to City Hall demanding a recall election to try to oust Cianci; they included 19,760 signatures. The woman who had claimed that Cianci raped her at gunpoint agreed to come to Providence to testify as a character witness against the mayor.

On March 5, Cianci agreed to plead no contest to charges of assault with a deadly weapon as well as assault and battery; the remaining charges were dropped. Hassett would also plead no contest to a charge of assault with a deadly weapon and resign from the police department. However, he would later be reinstated after his attorneys argued that there was no basis for the charge if Hassett had not been convicted of kidnapping.

Cianci is sentenced on April 23, 1984 (Source)

Cianci faced up to 11 years in prison, but on April 23 he was sentenced to a fully suspended five-year term with five years of probation. The sentence raised the question of whether he could continue to serve as mayor; the assault with a deadly weapon charge was a felony, and the new city charter barred felons from holding public office. Cianci resolved the issue by resigning two days after he was sentenced. The Rhode Island Supreme Court later gave him a public censure, but allowed him to continue practicing law.

In his autobiography, Cianci expressed regret for the incident but couldn't help joking about the matter as well. "[F]ind me a man who will never admit to having made a mistake and I'll show you a successful politician," he quipped.

Return to office

At about the same time as Cianci's resignation, a federal investigation began looking into malfeasance in the Providence city government. When the five-year probe ended in 1989, it had indicted 30 people. Charges included extortion, accepting kickbacks, theft of city pavement for private jobs, and employees conducting personal business while on the clock.

U.S. Attorney Lincoln C. Almond commented that more people would have been charged but for the expiration of the statute of limitations. Those who were convicted included former city solicitor Ronald H. Glantz, who was sentenced to eight years in prison; former Democratic city chairman Anthony J. Bucci, who received the same sentence; and Richard A. Carroll, former chairman of the Providence Water Supply Board, who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years. Cianci was considered for indictment, but ultimately was not charged.

Since his resignation, Cianci had been working as a radio host. Even with the news that he had been under investigation for corruption, there was speculation that he would again seek the mayor's office in 1990. Joseph R. Paolino, Jr., the Democratic chairman of the city council, had become acting mayor after Cianci's resignation and won a special election to keep the seat before being re-elected in 1986. He wasn't running again in 1990, opting instead to enter the gubernatorial race.

Cianci hosting his AM radio show (Source)

Just 17 minutes before the deadline expired on June 27, Cianci filed his papers announcing his intention to run for mayor of Providence. He was once again running as an independent; he would again face Lippitt in the general election, along with Democrat city councilman Andrew Annaldo.

During the campaign, one of Cianci's billboards was creatively vandalized by Rhode Island School of Design student Shepard Fairey. Residents looking up at the billboard saw that Cianci's face had been replaced by a stenciled image of professional wrestler Andre the Giant, with the slogan altered to read, "Andre never stopped caring about Providence." The image became so popular that Fairey turned it into a brand, selling millions of Andre the Giant stickers as well as other merchandise. Today, Fairey is better known as the artist behind the famous "Hope" campaign poster for Barack Obama.

"Andre never stopped caring about Providence" (Source)

When the ballots were counted, Cianci had won his narrowest victory yet. About 47,000 people had gone to the polls; Cianci won by a mere 317 votes. A small group of residents challenged his victory, arguing that the state constitution disqualified felons from holding office until three years after the completion of their sentence and probation. Under these rules, Cianci wouldn't be eligible for office until the spring of 1992.

Thomas Rossi, the newly re-elected mayor's campaign advisor, responded that it was a moot point. The torrid details of Cianci's assault on DeLeo had been given national coverage, he noted, and voters would have to be "hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar" to not know about his past conviction; they had favored him anyway.

Cianci renewed his focus on revitalizing Providence and turning the city into a destination. One of the most ambitious projects involved an effort to draw attention to the Providence River, which had long been hidden beneath roadways and other infrastructure. Once the waterway and its tributaries were exposed, they were girded with pleasant walkways and ornate bridges. In 1994, the city debuted WaterFire, a popular semi-regular event where braziers floated down the river as gondolas plied the waters.

Downtown Providence during the WaterFire festival (Source)

The downtown was further enhanced by the opening of the Providence Place Mall and a new skating rink. A total of $300 million was invested in transportation upgrades. Several biomedical businesses opened in the city. Cianci became a tireless promoter of the city, lobbying the New England Patriots to build a stadium in Providence and frequently appearing on national programs to discuss its business development, arts scene, and historical and cultural attractions. He made a point to show his acceptance of the LGBT community, welcoming them to visit the city or make it their home.

The accelerating pace of Providence's resurrection helped improve Cianci's popularity. Critics continued to point out that the mayor's plans were doing little to help the city's poorest neighborhoods or improve its schools, or that he was taking credit for revitalization plans that were bearing fruit after decades of bipartisan efforts, but these concerns were often overshadowed by praise for the glittering new business district. Cianci further won sympathy by promising to donate the proceeds from his locally distributed pasta sauce, "Mayor's Own Marinara Sauce," to fund a scholarship assisting poor children.

In 1994, Cianci comfortably won re-election in a race against former Democratic state representative Paul Jabour as well as Republican candidate Thomas J. Ricci. In 1998, he was unopposed in the general election.

Operation Plunder Dome

This momentum may easily have carried Cianci to another term in office had he not once again been faced with criminal charges. On April 2, 2001, Cianci was indicted on 30 counts of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, witness tampering, and mail fraud. The charges were the culmination of a four-year federal investigation, dubbed Operation Plunder Dome, which accused the mayor of essentially running his office like an organized criminal enterprise.

The indictment charged Cianci with involvement in a wide variety of schemes to accept money under the table. Between 1991 and 1999, he and two associates were said to have received $250,000 in campaign funds from tow truck operators. These companies acted as straw donors, giving the money to Cianci's campaign to ensure that they would stay on the police department's preferential tow list. Cianci was also accused of taking bribes to give out municipal jobs, give people breaks on their property taxes, or allow them to obtain vacant city properties.

Similar to the accusations that Providence had been poorly managed under Cianci in the 1970s and 1980s, investigators said there had been widespread corruption elsewhere in the city government. Cocaine and gold had mysteriously disappeared from the police department's evidence room. Manhole covers had also vanished, stolen by city workers to sell for scrap metal.

Cianci talks to the media after his arraignment on April 6, 2001 (Source)

Cianci responded with defiance. Referring to the 97-page indictment, he joked, "I'm not afraid of this. Ninety-seven times zero is zero." When he heard that former tax board chairman Joseph Pannone had said the mayor instructed him how to take a bribe, Cianci joked, "What the hell does he think, that I'm running a seminar? Stealing 101?"

Nevertheless, Operation Plunder Dome began to win convictions against those accused of malfeasance. Not long after the investigation concluded, four city officials and two lawyers were found guilty of corruption.

Cianci went to trial in June 2002, five months before an election he had every intention to enter. By the time the proceedings began, many of the criminal charges had been thrown out for lack of evidence or other reasons.

The trial focused on a number of different incidents, including the extortion related to the tow truck leases and an accusation that Cianci accepted bribes on a $1.2 million lease the School Department took out on a building owned by a convicted felon. One woman testified that she paid the mayor $5,000 to get her son a job on the police force. Another man said he had shelled out $5,000 to get a city job; he started in a temporary role that paid only $9 an hour, but was later rewarded with a full-time senior planner position. Cianci was also accused of accepting $10,000 to grant a property tax break to a resident; taking another $10,000 bribe from a person who wanted to purchase city real estate; extorting a lifetime membership to the University Club, a private club on the city's East Side; and tampering with a witness who had been summoned to discuss the extortion before the grand jury.

David C. Ead, a tax official who had been convicted of bribery as part of Operation Plunder Dome, testified that he arranged a total of $25,000 in bribes for the mayor. Another witness said Cianci had made the threat, "Be careful of the toe you step on today, because it might be connected to an ass that you have to kiss tomorrow." More than 50 witnesses testified for the prosecution, with several saying that they had feared reprisals from Cianci or his director of administration, Frank E. Corrente.

Some of the most damning evidence in Operation Plunder Dome came from Antonio Freitas, a businessman who had paid bribes for tax breaks and other rewards at the FBI's direction. He had also worn a wire to secretly record 180 conversations with city officials between 1998 and 1999. In the tapes, played during the trial, tow truck drivers and other boasted about their connections to City Hall and the schemes they had set up to benefit Cianci.

In one conversation, Pannone described the mayor as being addicted to taking money. "He needs the green. He needs to fix his hair," Pannone said. The comment may have referred to Cianci's distinctive toupee, which he had nicknamed "the squirrel."

Cianci's defense attorneys sought to undermine the credibility of the witnesses who testified against the mayor. They didn't mince words, describing the witnesses as liars and thieves. Ead, one lawyer said, had a gambling addiction and was "a pig, plain and simple." Attorney John Tarantino declared, "David Ead has said just about anything and will do just about anything to protect himself. He's lied and he's cheated and he's deceived for money."

By the end of the trial, the charges related to the tow truck operator kickbacks and the alleged witness tampering were thrown out due to lack of evidence. The charge related to the school lease was also dismissed after the judge determined that it didn't meet the criteria for racketeering.

On June 24, Cianci was acquitted of 11 charges. But the jury found him guilty of one count of racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The RICO rules held that the leader and beneficiary of a racketeering conspiracy could be held responsible for the acts of other conspirators even if he or she did not directly take part in their criminal actions. In his memoir, Cianci agreed with state representative Steven Smith's assessment of the conviction: "They found him guilty of nothing but responsible for everything."

The conviction did little to dampen support for Cianci among the mayor's adherents. He was greeted outside the courtroom by applauding supporters, some of whom shouted, "Let him go!" Almond had called on Cianci to resign after his indictment and repeated the advice after the verdict, saying, "I think the time has come to say the capital city cannot stand this type of corruption. Enough is enough." But Cianci was not required to leave office until his sentencing, and continued to put in public appearances; he even kept an appointment to address a graduating high school class on the evening of his conviction.

Cianci leaves his hotel to begin his prison sentence (Source)

Cianci faced up to 20 years in prison, along with a potential fine of $250,000. On September 7, Judge Ernest C. Torres ordered Cianci to serve 64 months behind bars and pay a $100,000 fine. The prison sentence was squarely in the middle of the federal sentencing guidelines of 57 to 71 months for racketeering conspiracy. Torres, disagreeing with the state's contention that the corruption under Cianci had been a significant disruption to city business, rejected the prosecution's request for a 10-year sentence. The mayor was also required to serve two years of probation and perform 150 hours of community service after his release.

Having maintained his innocence throughout the trial, Cianci thanked the judge for what he considered to be fair treatment. "It's an unfortunate situation. I'm sorry, obviously, that it has come to this," he said. "My heart will always be with Providence. I never intended to do anything wrong, Your Honor."

The sentence was stayed until December to give Cianci an opportunity to appeal, but state law required him to leave office immediately. The remainder of his term, through January 2003, was served by city council president John Lombardi. After Lombardi declined to run in the 2002 election, he was succeeded by Democratic state representative David Cicilline.

Several other people were convicted as a result of Operation Plunder Dome, including Corrente, Ead, and tow truck operator Richard Autiello. A businessman named Edward Voccola was also charged with involvement in the scheme, but was acquitted by a judge partway through his trial.

Later years

While in prison, Cianci kept up with local politics by reading week-old issues of the Providence Journal. He was also inducted into the Providence Preservation Society's hall of fame while still incarcerated. He belatedly filed an appeal in May 2003, arguing that the state had not provided any direct evidence that he was involved in corruption in the Providence city government. A federal appeals court upheld the verdict against him in a 2-1 decision in August 2004.

A surprising development came in April 2005, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit threw out the sentences of Cianci, Autiello, and Corrente. The court ruled that a recent Supreme Court decision, United States v. Booker, had invalidated the mandatory sentencing guidelines used to determine the prison terms for the three men. Cianci attorney John MacFadyen vowed to press for a shorter term, while Robert Corrente, the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island, said he would oppose any reduction in the former mayor's sentence. Torres, who was ordered to re-sentence Cianci, decided against shortening his prison term.

On May 30, 2007, Cianci was released from prison and sent to a halfway house. Four months later, he again began making frequent appearances as a radio host. He was a frequent critic of Representative Patrick Kennedy, and in January 2010 said he was considering challenging the congressman for his seat in the House of Representatives. He decided against it.

In 2011, Cianci released an autobiography entitled Politics and Pasta. At one point, he wrote, "I used my public power for personal reasons. I admit it. It probably wasn't the right thing to do, but it certainly felt good."

July 2012 marked the end of the three-year waiting period following the end of Cianci's probation. Although Providence residents wondered if he would again run for mayor in the 2014 race, many didn't expect him to do so. Despite his former popularity and track record of urban development, he would be in his early 70s with the less than reputable record of two separate felony convictions.

Cianci during his 2014 mayoral campaign (Source)

Much to the dismay of his prosecutors and critics, Cianci announced that he would indeed run as an independent and seek a seventh term as mayor of Providence. He won the endorsements of several municipal unions, including those representing the teachers, firefighters, and police department.

During his campaign, an Associated Press investigation revealed that Cianci had broken his promise to not accept any donations from city workers. Reporters also found that his pasta sauce hadn't actually generated any profits in the previous four years despite marketing that it supported scholarships. In the general election, Cianci won about 45 percent of approximately 38,000 votes cast. Several Democratic candidates had abandoned their bids to consolidate support against Cianci; the remaining Democratic candidate, Jorge O. Elorza, won the race.

In November 2015, Cianci's official portrait was unveiled in City Hall. During his remarks at the event, Cianci quipped that it was "not the first time I've been framed."

Three months later, Cianci got engaged to Tara Marie Haywood, a 34-year-old actress and model. A few weeks after that, he was suddenly stricken with severe abdominal pain while taping a TV show. He died on January 28, 2016, at the age of 74.

Sources: "Mayor of Providence Seeking Re-Election Without Nomination" in the New York Times on Aug. 25 1974, "R.I. Mayor Cianci Denies Alleged Rape Incident" in The Telegraph on Jul. 10 1978, "City Troubles Catch A Rising Political Star" in The Telegraph on Apr. 18 1981, "Mayor Indicted on Kidnap Charges" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on May 25 1983, "Legal Scrapes Pursue Mayor of Providence" in the Washington Post on Jul. 2 1983, "Kidnaping Charge is Mayor's Next Hurdle" in the Chicago Tribune on Jul. 6 1983, "Mayor of Providence Pleads No Contest to Assault Case" in the New York Times on Mar. 6 1984, "Northeast Journal - Back on the Beat in Providence" in the  New York Times on Jul. 7 1985, "Providence Journal - The Election Was Only Round One" in the New York Times on Nov. 14 1990, "Providence Mayor Indicted on Racketeering Charges" in the New York Times on Apr. 3 2001, "Providence Mayor Convicted On Corruption Charges" in The Hour on Jun. 25 2002, "Providence Mayor Convicted of Corruption" in South Coast Today on Jun. 25 2002, "A Sentence for Corruption Ends an Era in Providence" in the New York Times on Sep. 7 2002, "A Heap of Trouble" in the Providence Journal on Dec. 11 2002, "Raymond DeLeo's Nightmare on Power Street" in the Providence Journal on Dec. 12 2002, "Ex-Providence Mayor Appeals Conviction" in the Plainview Daily Herald on May 27 2003, "Ex-Providence Mayor's Conviction Upheld" in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 11 2004, "Sentences of Cianci, Two Others Thrown Out" in the Boston Globe on Apr. 7 2005, "Cianci Will Serve Full 64-Month Sentence" in the Brown Daily Herald on Jun. 27 2005, "Buddy Cianci Is In The Lead to Become Mayor of Providence. Again" in the Washington Post on Sep. 24 2014, "Good Buddy, Bad Buddy" in the New York Times on Oct. 11 2014, "Vincent A. Cianci Jr., Celebrated and Scored Ex-Mayor of Providence, R.I., Dies at 74" in the New York Times on Jan. 28 2016, "Timeline of the Late Buddy Cianci's Political Career" in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Jan. 28 2016, "Vincent 'Buddy' Cianci, 1941-2016" in the Providence Journal on Jan. 28 2016, "Former Providence Mayor 'Buddy' Cianci Has Died" in South Coast Today on Jan. 28 2016, "Buddy Cianci, Flamboyant and Roguish Mayor Who Rebuilt Providence, Dies at 74" in the Washington Post on Jan. 28 2016, Politics and Pasta by Vincent Cianci Jr. and David Fisher, The Prince of Providence by Mike Stanton, Who We Be: The Colorization of America by Jeff Chang