Heeeee’s back: Vincent A. `Buddy’ Cianci Jr., made official this afternoon what he has been talking about for months, that he will try for a Lazarus-like, unprecedented third comeback as Providence mayor, this time as an independent.
Cianci, 73, had an unidentified man (since reported as old friend and ally Alfred Passarelli) file the required campaign documents at Providence City Hall, where Cianci served for a record 21 years as mayor, about 20 minutes before the 4 p.m. candidate filing deadline. As is the case with all mayoral candidates, Cianci has until July 11 to deliver the signatures of 500 registered voters to the city’s canvassing office to qualify for a ballot spot.
As has been his custom, Cianci waited until the eleventh hour. He was on air during his afternoon talk show on WPRO-AM when his nominating papers were filed. He went to his show carrying an announcement speech in his pocket that was written by two old allies, Paul Campbell, the current city archivist, and Patrick Conley, who was once Cianci’s City Hall chief of staff and is a noted expert on Rhode Island history and professor emeritus at Providence College. Cianci has been making the rounds of some political events lately. He said recently that he took an extensive poll of city voters recently that was supervised by Fred Steeper, his former pollster and a well-known national Republican polling expert who is semi-retired.
``He said he'll come out of retirement if I run,'' said Cianci last week. No decision has been made on a campaign manager, said Campbell.
Twice evicted from office as mayor and holder of two felony convictions, a Cianci victory would be a remarkable, even improbable resurrection for a politician who served more than four years in federal prison after a 2002 racketeering conviction on federal corruption charges.
Cianci’s decision to run as an independent is a reprise of his 1990 strategy, when he won a three-way contest over independent Frederick Lippitt and Democrat Andrew Annaldo by capturing a bit more than a third of the vote.
This time, Cianci has again jumped into what is a multi-candidate election. By running as an independent, he automatically gets to November, without having to compete in what will be a costly, and probably contentious, Democratic primary. That primary will include City Council President Michael Solomon, who has the party endorsement, and two other serious Democratic aspirants who have never been elected to anything, campaign consultant Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza, a Roger Williams University Law School professor and former city Housing Court judge.
In the general election, there are likely four major candidates: the Republican, Dr. Daniel Harrop, a psychiatrist who has run before but never even come close; Cianci, Lorne Adrian, a first-time candidate who is the former chairman of the state’s education board, and the winner of the Democratic primary.
Cianci’s opponents were quick to pounce, using the ``let’s not go back to the past’’ mantra that is sure to be a major attack strategy throughout the campaign as his opponents attempt to define him as unfit for the office. `
`Providence cannot afford to return to the corrupt politics of the past and that is what Buddy Cianci’s candidacy represents,’’ said Smiley in a statement.
Adrian told a gaggle of reporters at City Hall that Providence ``needs new leadership.’’ Adrain, flanked by his wife, celebrated writer and novelist Ann Hood, said ``I think this election is about the future of Providence not the past.’’
``Providence residents want to keep moving forward and I am the candidate with the experience and vision to continue improving out city,’’ said Solomon in a statement. Solomon also touted his work with Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat who is running for his party’s gubernatorial nomination.
``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,’’ said Solomon.
Taveras hasn’t endorsed any mayoral candidate and probably will not. He is running for governor and won’t want to frost any of the mayoral campaigns. The mayoral and gubernatorial primaries are the same day, September 9th.
So, as was the case with the 2010 governor’s race and the 1990 Providence mayoral race, the general election will resemble a primary. In such faceoffs where there is no provision for a runoff, anything can happen and as few as 30 percent of voters can elect a mayor. Cianci is a fabulous street politician who has urban politics in his veins. By competing as an independent, he can wait until the primary is over, then sidle up to the losers with promises of patronage as he courts support. Waiting until the general election also gives him more time to raise money and put together a campaign staff and voter turnout field operation.
Waiting until the fall would also give Cianci the star billing in a format he has proved a master of in the past – the televised debate. A lawyer and onetime state prosecutor, Cianci has extensive media training and is quick on his feet. He has proven to be a formidable debater in previous campaigns and in 1990 did very well in that format.
No one who knows anything about Providence politics counts him out, especially given the untested field and multi-candidate setup.
Cianci’s health could also use a summer break. He was diagnosed with cancer in January and has been receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He insists his doctors are confident of recovery and has said for months that the treatments would not be a factor in his decision to run.