WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — When former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci died unexpectedly in January, he left behind several charitable and business ventures, including his self-branded pasta sauce, a scholarship fund and plans for a library to house 40 years' worth of memorabilia.
His family is sorting through that legacy.
Cianci was the longest-serving mayor in Providence history, and one of the longest for a city of its size in the country. He held office for more than 21 years, but was forced out twice due to felonies. In 2002 he was convicted of corruption and sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison.
Throughout it all, Cianci maintained his appeal to many Rhode Islanders. When he died at age 74 , he was in the midst of a career as a successful talk radio host and TV commentator. He ran for mayor again in 2014 and lost, but still managed to draw 45 percent of the vote.
Cianci's nephew, Brad Turchetta, an orthodontist, told The Associated Press during an interview at his office this week that he and others have spent hours going through what Cianci left behind. In the mahogany desk Cianci kept at his Providence apartment, Turchetta said he found 1,000 letters from over the years. Many were thank you notes for kindnesses Cianci extended by covering for someone's mortgage payment or paying for someone's suit.
But he also kept critical notes.
"He got some letters, 'You should have kept your toupee on. I liked you better with your toupee on,'" he said. "Someone didn't like what he talked about on the radio. ... He would go back and read them."
"People have this image of him as the political figure. And he was rough. Yes, he was that. But he was so much more," Turchetta said.
Cianci kept caches of belongings at two warehouses. At one warehouse alone, there are 54 pallets, each wrapped in plastic, with dimensions of 6 feet on all sides, Turchetta said. Much of what's there is papers, but there also are numerous shovels from groundbreakings, a park bench and photographs of Cianci with countless Little League teams. They have hired someone to catalog every item, and then will decide how to move forward.
Some of the items have made their way back to Turchetta's office, including a marble tabletop from Florence, Italy, a sister city to Providence, and a "Free Buddy" T-shirt.
Turchetta said the family was not sure whether they should continue all of his uncle's ventures. Ultimately, they decided to keep going after hearing from high school guidance counselors about the value of the scholarship program. They plan to announce 13 $1,000 scholarships by the end of the month.
The family is working with former Cianci staffer Rick Simone, as well as a lawyer who specializes in nonprofits, to discuss how to move forward. The "Mayor's Own Marinara Sauce" is produced by a private company. The scholarship fund, which had $443,000 as of 2014, is a charity. A foundation was set up for a library to collect Cianci's papers, but had nearly no assets as of 2014.
Turchetta said they are discussing whether to keep the entities separate, combine them into one Cianci Foundation or some other approach. They hope to make a final decision within a month or two.
Turchetta acknowledged questions that were raised during the 2014 campaign about how the charity was run, and said they plan to be more transparent. An AP investigation found that no money from the sauce's sales had been donated to Cianci's scholarship fund for years, and that from 2009 to 2012, the sauce made a total of $3 in income.
Sales of the sauce spiked after Cianci's death, he and Simone said, as people rushed to buy cases for fear they would stop making it. The sauce will continue, and Turchetta hopes they might even expand.
People often questioned Cianci's motives, he said before adding that they would make things simple so there is no question about what is driving them.
"We want to honor his legacy and the fact that he gave so much of himself to the city and the state," Turchetta said. "There's no ulterior motives here."