Buddy Cianci enters Providence mayor’s race

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Buddy Cianci Show is moving from the Wampanoag Trail to the campaign trail.

Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., who is credited with presiding over Providence’s resurgence in the 1990s but twice resigned the mayor’s office in disgrace following felony convictions, said Wednesday he will again seek to lead Rhode Island’s capital city. He will run as an independent candidate.

Cianci, 73, had someone file paperwork for him to enter the mayor’s race while he was live on the air during his afternoon talk radio show on WPRO-AM, ending a months-long waiting game that has dominated the conversation in Rhode Island political circles.

“Some may see in this decision I announce today a tinge of déjà vu or whimsically label it as a localized version of ‘Back to the Future,’” Cianci said during a 10-minute speech just before the 4 p.m. filing deadline. “If they do, I would suggest to them that the ‘back’ is my decades of experience and achievement as mayor of Providence and the ‘future’ is my optimistic but attainable vision of its continued progress.”

Now that he’s declared his intention to run for mayor, Cianci’s next step is to open a campaign account with the Rhode Island Board of Elections. He is also required to obtain 500 signatures from registered Providence voters to have his name appear on the ballot by July 11.

The mayor’s office is open because first-term Mayor Angel Taveras is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Cianci’s opponents in the race include City Council President Michael Solomon, former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza, former Water Supply Board Chairman Brett Smiley and Chris Young, all Democrats. East Side businessman Lorne Adrain filed as an independent and Dr. Daniel Harrop is the lone Republican running. Three little-known candidates, independents Charles E. Lawrence and Jeffrey Lemire, as well as Democrat Reinaldo Catone, have also filed declaration papers.

For now, all the focus is on Cianci.

Elected as a Republican in 1974, he first served as mayor until 1984, when he resigned after pleading no contest to assaulting a man in his East Side home who was allegedly having an affair with his wife. He won the mayor’s office back in 1990 as an independent and remained there until 2002, when he was again forced to resign after being convicted on a racketeering conspiracy. He served more than four years in federal prison.

Cianci is widely credited with taking the lead on projects like the Providence Place mall and the moving of the rivers, which helped revitalize the city’s sleepy downtown. But more than 20 city employees were indicted on corruption charges following his first tenure in City Hall and several more were charged in “Operation Plunder Dome,” the federal investigation that ultimately landed Cianci in jail.

Since leaving prison, Cianci has held two lucrative on-air gigs as a talk radio show host on WPRO-AM and as a political commentator on WLNE-TV. Federal law requires him to give up those positions now that he’s a candidate for office, but Cianci has said that he has been given the okay to take a leave of absence from both stations for his campaign.

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci filed his Declaration of Candidacy Wednesday afternoon for Providence mayor. He'll run as an independent. (Photo: Allison Gaito/WPRI 12)
Vincent “Buddy” Cianci filed his Declaration of Candidacy Wednesday afternoon for Providence mayor. He’ll run as an independent. (Photo: Allison Gaito/WPRI 12)

Cianci has said he is in good health despite a recent bout with rectal cancer, but on Tuesday called the decision “a big lifestyle change for me.”

He’s not the only one changing.

Cianci hasn’t had his name on the ballot since he was at the height of his popularity in 1998, when he ran unopposed. Nearly 16 years later, 13 of the 35 elected officeholders in the city – between the mayor, the City Council and the state legislature – identify as African-American or Latino. Former Cianci strongholds like Federal Hill and the Charles neighborhood have seen dramatic demographic shifts in recent years.

But in a multi-candidate race, those close to Cianci say he can win. The former mayor said he believes his image is one of a man that is “a little older, a little wiser, has a little more wisdom.” If elected, he said he plans to hire a “star-studded administration of expertise and honesty and enthusiasm,” but he declined to name anyone specifically.

WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said a crowded ballot in November will help Cianci. “With the right scenario, Buddy would be in a decent position to win – it doesn’t mean he’s going to, but he’d be in a position to win,” Fleming said.

The radio show has given Cianci some advantages.

In recent months, as he began to get more serious about entering the race, he has used his platform to attack nearly every candidate in the field, particularly Solomon, the council president and the favorite among the city’s political establishment. He’s also been highly critical of Smiley, who has worked for both Taveras and former mayor and now Congressman David Cicilline, who succeeded Cianci as mayor.

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Timeline: Buddy through the years

Along the way, he’s boasted about the successes his administration had while downplaying the stereotype that Rhode Island is plagued by corruption. He has regularly argued that a “lack of vision” from local and state politicians is what has forced Rhode Island into a stagnant economy with high unemployment. Regular callers have urged him to run for mayor and, in some cases, governor.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, sees it differently. Marion said Cianci doesn’t “deserve to have the public’s trust again.”

“We helped restore voting rights for convicted felons back in 2006, but we also believe if you betray the public trust in public office, that’s something different,” Marion said. “His last time he was convicted, it wasn’t for a personal indiscretion, it was because he betrayed the public trust. He ran city hall as a criminal enterprise.”

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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