After claiming not to have his mind made up before taking to the airwaves for his afternoon talk show, 73-year-old Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr. revealed Wednesday he's staging an improbable comeback to become the next mayor of Providence.
Cianci is running as an independent -- the same approach he used during his 1990 return to power -- in a close three-way race, after having first won office in 1974 as a Republican.
Rhode Island's legendary rascal king, who has been credited with elevating the state's capital city and pilloried for abusing it, says he's confident he can win the race for mayor.
“If the people don’t want me, they don’t have to vote for me – and that’s not cocky," he says. "I realize I come with baggage, I understand that, but I think people have to take you for who you are. They know me from head to toe. They know my faults, they know my – although a lot of this stuff is myth. It’s perpetrated by a lot of people. But the fact is that they know who I am.”
At City Hall, a man who would not give his name walked past the gaggle of reporters at 3:37 pm and filed the papers. When asked who he was filing for he replied, “a man named Cianci, ever hear of him?”
At the studios of WPRO in East Providence, Cianci carried on on-air without specifying his plans even after the news of his campaign broke on Twitter. He faced reporters in a hallway afterward and offered this response when asked if his campaign would mark a return of shady politics to Providence.
“Look it, I said that everyone has problems in life, and I don’t think elections are about yesteryear – they’re about tomorrow," Cianci said. "The person who’s going to win this election is the person who can capture the imagination of the people of Providence and also have programs and a message that they can believe in.”
Cianci resumed his broadcast -- his last until after the election, he says -- after taking questions for about 15 minutes.
He says he's running as an independent because "why change the formula" that has worked in the past.
Cianci says, "I have a good message -- talk about experience and talk about the future of the city. Elections are about the future and what can happen in the future .... we're talking about revamping an entire culture in the city. I think we need to build our self-esteem and think that we are something that we don't believe our selves to be right now, and I think we have all the ingredients for success."
Cianci says he's missed being mayor and thinks the city has lost ground since he left office in 2002 -- the year when he was convicted of a single count of racketeering conspiracy. He served four and a half years in federal prison in New Jersey before returning to Rhode Island.
Cianci says he doesn't find fault with Providence's current mayor, Angel Taveras, and tacitly faulted Taveras' predecessor, US Representative David Cicilline, for leaving Taveras with a $110 million deficit after taking office in 2011. Cicilline later apologized for not being clearer about the city's challenge at the time.
With Taveras running for governor, a large field of candidates is vying to become mayor, including a string of Democrats: City Council President Michael Solomon, former Roger Williams University Law School professor Jorge Elorza, lobbyist/consultant Brett Smiley, and perennial candidate Christopher Young.
Shortly before the filing deadline, Democrat Lorne Adrain revealed he is instead running as an independent. In an email to supporters, Adrain said: "It has become clear, in the campaign to date, that the institutional nature of this city's Democratic primary process is unlikely to produce the bold changes that the people of Providence are hungry for. My filing as an Independent candidate for Mayor will offer a forum for a continuing constructive debate regarding the future of Providence."
Via statement, Smiley said: "Providence cannot afford to return to the corrupt politics of the past, and that is what Buddy Cianci's candidacy represents. Despite his many strengths, Cianci's time in office was characterized by widespread corruption, capped by his own conviction and jail sentence on charges of racketeering. I've been very clear to outline my vision for Providence along with detailed action plans to grow our economy, improve our schools, keep our streets safe and more, and I'll accomplish all of this with transparency and integrity rather than cash payments and back-room deals."
Solomon said, "Over the last four years as Council president, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Mayor Taveras and together we moved the city from the brink of bankruptcy toward a path of sustained growth and opportunity. My plan for Providence's future will continue this commitment to fiscal responsibility and transparency, rebuilding our schools, creating jobs, and investing in our neighborhoods. Providence residents want to keep moving forward and I am the candidate with the experience and vision to continue improving our city.”
Elorza offered this reaction: "This race is about the future of Providence, not its past. It's about finding new ways to better the city, and bringing a fresh perspective to City Hall. It's about uniting every neighborhood together as One Providence, and a new voice emerging to represent the entire city, the Providence of today. We've entered a new phase of the election, but my message of a united, vibrant city remains the same, and I intend to make it heard loud and clear. I will be the new voice that our new Providence needs."
Waiting at City Hall, Ward 10 Councilman Louis Aponte said the voters will decide whether Cianci, a twice convicted felon, will be good for the city. “Rhode Island and Providence by extension are cities that are believe in redemption. People love a comeback story,” said Aponte.
“Buddy’s your man. Buddy’s the man … he’s gonna win easy.”A legendary jester around City Hall, Walter Miller, cried out with joy as soon as he heard that Cianci filed for another run as Providence’s mayor.
In 1974 Cinanci ran as Providence’s anti-corruption candidate. The tagline took on ironic overtones when a series of Cianci aides were charged with corruption during what is known as Buddy I and Buddy II.
Cianci left office in 1984 after pleading no contest to assault, in a case involving a man he suspected of sleeping with his estranged wife.
Cianci's decision caps months of speculation about the future of Rhode Island's fabled rascal king. His campaign will bring reporters to Rhode Island from out of state and take attention away from other political races in this busy political year.
To his supporters, including former mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr., Cianci is a man of action -- someone who, even at age 73, can get things done. Critics question whether he can avoid the corruption that dogged his two administrations.
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