PROVIDENCE, R.I. - When actor Anthony Quinn died earlier this month, his family turned to Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. to tell the world.
It turns out Zorba the Greek and Zorba the Mayor were friends.
There is little physical resemblance between the late actor and the short, stocky Cianci, but they were in many ways kindred spirits.
Like Zorba and Quinn, Buddy Cianci is openly passionate about food, drink, laughter and life itself. Like the famous character from the 1964 film, he's a free spirit who has a way of dancing around the rules.
Cianci's flamboyant personality has helped make him a spectacularly successful mayor of this resurgent city of 173,000 during two stints, beginning in 1974. It also has a way of landing him in trouble.
His first indictment came in 1984 when he was charged with pummeling his estranged wife's lover. He pleaded no contest, and avoided jail by resigning as mayor.
His second came this April, more than 10 years after he regained the mayor's office. This one involves federal racketeering - 30 counts - and threatens to send him to jail for a decade or more.
A politician getting indicted is hardly news in the state known to many as "Rogue's Island." A recent governor went to federal prison in a corruption case, and enough lesser officials have been indicted that a Marylander would feel right at home.
For now Cianci, 60, is still entrenched at City Hall, swinging deals and dreaming big dreams for his beloved Providence - a quirky city that is a blend of Ivy League college town (Brown University) and ward heelers' paradise.
The federal indictment portrays Cianci as a corrupt official who accepted bribes for city contracts, extorted cash in return for tax breaks and demanded payments for city jobs - among other offenses. He is charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a statute usually reserved for the likes of Tony Soprano.
People in Providence are of two minds about their mayor.
H. Philip West, executive director of the Common Cause chapter here, said he admires the mayor's "intelligent compassion" in dealing with such issues as children's health. On the other, he thinks Cianci is probably guilty as charged.
So how does he feel about the mayor personally?
"Of course I like him," West says. "He's a very likable guy. He's charismatic in a kind of rascally way. That's part of his charm."
Cianci's combination of personal warmth, unabashed love for his city and propensity for legal difficulties has provoked comparisons with Boston's James Michael Curley. His frenetic boosterism and fierce devotion to old pals would remind a Baltimorean of William Donald Schaefer.
But even those two legendary mayors would be hard pressed to match the impact Cianci has had on his hometown.
During two stints as mayor spanning 20 years - longer than Schaefer ran Baltimore - Cianci has brought a remarkable transformation to the appearance, economy and morale of once down-in-the-dumps Providence.
The mayor may not have moved mountains to revitalize the city, but he has moved a couple of rivers - literally. By changing the course of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers in the early 1990s, Cianci - with help from the state - improved traffic flow in the city's central business district and created an attractive waterfront park.
The results of his visionary thinking can be seen all around Providence - in the Nordstrom's that anchors a new urban mall, in the restaurant crowded with diners at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night on his rebuilt DiPasquale Square, in the Broadway shows in the downtown theaters he has helped to subsidize, in the four hotels under construction.
"The attitude of people in this town was that Providence was a hellhole. Now they don't even remember that attitude," said Burt Kranka, founder of a downtown artists' community.
The mayor, too, can be seen all around Providence. He accepts virtually any invitation that comes in - weddings, funerals, gallery openings, testimonials, Little League games.
"I go to the opening of an envelope," he likes to say.
His devotion to Providence has taken a personal toll. One night last month, after a few glasses of wine at a fine Italian restaurant that has become his second home, he threw his arm around a visiting reporter's shoulder and said he had lost two families to the job.
"I'm not whining. It was my choice," the mayor said.
Cianci burst onto the political scene in 1974 when he won election as a Republican in a tight race at the age of 33. He was hailed as the Boy Wonder of Rhode Island politics and a national star of the GOP.
But his fame turned to national notoriety in 1984, when he was charged with assault, accused of grounding out a cigarette in his victim's eye and battering him with a fireplace log.