When Buddy Cianci and Tom Menino Traded Barbs Over the Patriots

In the end, neither man got what he wanted.

The proposed site of a Patriots stadium in Providence. Photo via AP

The proposed site of a Patriots stadium in Providence. Photo via AP

As the longest serving mayors of their respective New England metropolises, Boston’s Tom Menino and Providence’s Vincent “Buddy” Cianci” were bound to cross paths.

The two men couldn’t have been more different in their approaches to politics: Menino quietly applied pressure behind the scenes, while a more flamboyant Cianci relished the spotlight. Though their encounters during Menino’s first term were often cordial—spotted kibitzing in the lobby of a Washington hotel, and later, side-by-side in a parade down Cambridge Street—the two iron-willed Italian-Americans dispatched with the pleasantries once the resurgent New England Patriots were up for grabs.

Cianci, a cancer survivor, died this week after experiencing stomach pains while shooting his weekly television talk show. He was 74.

In January 1997, three years after Robert Kraft bought the team, the Patriots prepared to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, their first in 11 years. Kraft, eager to leave Foxboro Stadium in favor of a new facility, had courted both Providence and the South Boston waterfront as potential sites (Menino preferred Kraft pick the South Bay area over Southie, a point of contention). The NFL picked Providence, not Boston, as the host of the AFC title game, a decision the league said was made based on hotel availability.

It didn’t sit well with a jilted Menino, who quipped, “I guess Pawtucket was already booked.” Cianci fired back: “Striking up a relationship with him again is going to be difficult. It’s like kissing a rattlesnake on the lips.”

The spat carried on. From a January 9, 1997 Globe story:

“I didn’t criticize Boston, he criticized Providence,” Cianci added. “Mayor Menino is not a dumb guy. He’s smarter than this.”

Meanwhile, Menino has stuck by his story that he said what he did on Monday—suggesting that players and others would find Providence a pleasantly boring city—only because his Rhode Island counterpart had already fired the first verbal salvo.

“Buddy Cianci is doing this to have fun at the expense of the city of Boston,” Menino said this week.

Meanwhile, Cianci was soaking up the publicity. From the New York Times:

Buddy Cianci, Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and, this week, King of New England, was holding court, autographing bottles of his personal marinara sauce, brandishing reams of press clippings about himself, bragging about kissing a pig on national television and gloating over Providence’s selection over Boston as the official host for a National Football League playoff game today.

In the same story, Menino adviser Edward F. Jesser quipped, ”Buddy hasn’t gotten this much publicity since he tried to turn his wife’s lover into an ashtray.” WGBH’s Margery Egan, then at the Herald, called Cianci’s toupee ”extraordinarily formidable.” Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy wrote in a letter to Menino that the mayor’s comments “gave me more indigestion than the last time I ate Boston baked beans.”

The Patriots defeated the Jaguars 20-6 and advanced to Super Bowl XXXI, to face Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers in New Orleans. Cianci was in attendance for the game, with the sole purpose of wooing Kraft. It didn’t pan out. The Patriots lost 35-21, and by October, Kraft would announce plans to refurbish the stadium in Foxboro, rather than build a new one.

Eventually, the two buried the hatchet. In the wake of Menino’s death in October 2014, Cianci eulogized his counterpart to the north.

“He’s one of the great American mayors,” he told the Herald. “I always had a lot of fun with him. He was not only a great mayor for Boston—he was a great mayor for the country. While he did a lot of great things for Boston, he set a great example for all mayors.”