Spending on Providence mayor’s race tops $3 million

Laurie White of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, left, moderates a forum with the three candidates for mayor of Providence on Oct. 15, 2014. (photo: Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Six candidates for mayor of Rhode Island’s capital city combined to spend more than $3 million over the last 14 months, according to WPRI.com review of campaign filings with the R.I. Board of Elections.

Of the three candidates still in the running, independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., the last man to enter the race, has spent the most, shelling out $745,802 in just four months. Democrat Jorge Elorza nearly matched Cianci by spending $726,584, but his first expenditure came in Sept. 2013. Republican Daniel Harrop has spent just under $83,000 on his campaign.

All candidates who will appear on next week’s ballot were required to file their latest campaign finance reports by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

The cost to win the $112,500-a-year job as mayor has been driven up in large part due to Providence having its first meaningful general election since 1994; no city mayor won less than 80% of the vote in the general election between 1998 and 2010.

Before it came down to Cianci, Elorza and Harrop in the general election, City Council President Michael Solomon, Brett Smiley and businessman Lorne Adrain combined to spend $1.5 million between Sept. 1, 2013 and Oct. 6, 2014. Solomon lost the Democratic primary to Elorza. Smiley and Adrain both dropped out of the race over the summer. All three have endorsed Elorza.

Cianci has spent just under $348,000 on a wide range of paid media, running ads on nearly every television and radio station in the market as well as several newspapers and websites. The majority of his other expenditures have been with consultants, including pollsters and research firms. He reported $101,348 cash on hand with a week to go before the election.

Elorza has raised $417,000 since the Sept. 9 primary as a coalition of Democrats and other Cianci opponents have rallied around the 37-year-old professor and former Housing Court judge. Even Harrop, the Republican candidate, donated $1,000 to Elorza’s cause. Although he has not had the same paid media presence as Cianci, the vast majority of Elorza’s expenditures have been for advertising, direct mail and polling firms. He still had $79,528 in his campaign war chest as of Tuesday.

Harrop meanwhile has paid himself back nearly all of the $100,000 he loaned his campaign in 2013, but the East Side psychiatrist has also had a small presence online and on the radio with ads. He reported $40,528 cash on hand.

A poll released last week by Brown University showed Elorza leading Cianci by 10 points, a significant shift from a September WPRI 12/Providence Journal survey that gave Cianci a six-point lead over Elorza. Both campaigns say they believe the race is going to be very close.

This isn’t the first multimillion dollar race in Providence’s history.

In 1990, six candidates – Cianci, independent Fred Lippitt and Democrats Andrew Annaldo, Victoria Lederberg, Paul Jabour and Nicholas Easton – spent at least $2.9 million between the primary and general election, according to reports published in The Providence Journal at the time. Cianci beat Lippitt by 317 votes that year.

In 2002, Democrats David Cicilline, Joe Paolino, David Igliozzi and Keven McKenna combined to spend $2.4 million in the primary, according to reports filed with the Board of Elections. Cicilline went on to easily win the general election.

Eight years later, Board of Elections filings show Angel Taveras, John Lombardi and Steven Constantine combined to spend $1.8 million in the Democratic primary, Taveras cruised to victory in the general election over independent Jonathan Scott.

The Board of Elections filings only count money raised and spent by the candidates in their own campaign accounts. It excludes any money shelled out to boost them by outside groups such as political action committees or labor unions.

The race has also seen a multimillionaire from New Jersey spend $50,000 to attack Elorza; a Connecticut-based charter school advocate dish out $25,000 to target Cianci; former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Myrth York create a Super PAC to oppose Cianci; and the Providence firefighters’ union spend thousands of dollars of mail pieces in support of Cianci.

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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