He’s been the anticorruption candidate and the convict, his city’s savior and its sad laughingstock — sometimes simultaneously.
Now Vincent Cianci, 73, is auditioning one more time for a role he’s twice given up in disgrace: mayor of Providence.
That’s right. Buddy’s back.
The two-time mayor, whose previous stints in office were each punctuated by felony convictions, announced on his radio talk show Wednesday that he’d seek a new four-year term. Cianci will appear as an independent on what could be a crowded November ballot.
“I’m not a mere caretaker,” Cianci said during an announcement that sought to portray Providence as stagnating in the years since he left the city in handcuffs. “I get things done.”
His signature hairpieces jettisoned, Cianci joins nine other candidates in the contest for mayor of the state’s capital, a job that will be vacated by Angel Taveras, who is running for governor. Cianci spoke of his love for the city — a love he said was “undiminished but sadly unfulfilled” — and made only indirect allusions to the baggage he brings to the race.
“Experience is a great teacher, but also a painful one,” he said.
‘I love the city of Providence and don’t think there’s a better city anywhere.’
Cianci, who was diagnosed in January with rectal cancer, is seeking the mayor’s office 40 years after his first successful run. He took office for the first time in 1975 and won reelection twice before being forced to resign in 1984 after pleading no contest to assaulting a contractor Cianci believed was having an affair with his wife.
This was the reign that came to be known as Buddy I.
By 1990 Cianci was back, this time presiding over Providence’s renaissance. With enough charisma to make his omnipresence mostly endearing, Cianci ran the city as it began to thrive. It turned out he was thriving, too: In 2002, Cianci was convicted of racketeering conspiracy for running an administration “rife with corruption at all levels,” according to the judge who sentenced him to five years in prison.
So ended Buddy II.
As for Buddy III?
“I’m trying to imagine what a third Buddy Cianci regime will look like,” said Mike Stanton, author of “The Prince of Providence,” a 2004 biography of Cianci. “Has he changed? I don’t know.”
By running as an independent, Cianci will probably join independents Lorne Adrain and Jeffrey Edward Lemire and Republican Daniel Harrop in the general election. Cianci also avoids a messy Democratic primary featuring six candidates: Reinaldo Catone, Jorge Elorza, Dominque Gregoire, Brett Smiley, Michael Solomon, and Christopher Young.
The crowded general election might make the path to victory easier for Cianci, said Joe Fleming, a longtime Rhode Island pollster. Dividing the vote four or even five ways serves Cianci’s purposes, Fleming said, because “Buddy has a ceiling. There are many who won’t vote for him no matter what.”
A two- or even three-way race would mean Cianci would need to garner more of the vote to win, risking bumping up against that ceiling, Fleming said.
In another shrewd political play, Cianci on Wednesday suggested the many problems Providence faces can’t be blamed on Taveras, the outgoing mayor.
“He knows Providence has changed,” Fleming said, citing the big increase in Latino voters since Cianci’s last tenure. Courting that Latino vote — or at least not actively ostracizing it by attacking Taveras — is smart politics.
Maureen Moakley, a professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, said Cianci has used his talk radio platform to court those different constituencies, giving airtime to wide swaths of the community.
“Now he has to give up that platform,” Moakley said, referring to election law that requires him to leave the airwaves.
On the air Wednesday, Cianci touched on the troubles Providence faces: failing schools, infrastructure issues, high corporate and personal taxes. He leaned on his record — political, not criminal — in describing a desire to rekindle the renaissance over which he once reigned.
“I love the city of Providence and don’t think there’s a better city anywhere,” he said at the outset of Wednesday’s radio show, a drawn-out announcement that borrowed some of the showmanship that has been Cianci’s signature for 40 years.
Cianci told listeners shortly after he came on the air that he’d already signed the necessary paperwork to run, had written a speech, and had a supporter on standby at City Hall, ready to file. But he let the drama build.
“Help me make my mind up,” he said early in the show’s 3 p.m. hour. And so his listeners did.
“The city needs you,” said a caller named Tim, somewhere in the middle of a rambling discussion of his grandfather’s long-ago service to Providence’s water authority.
“I remember back in the ’80s, Providence being a ghost town. . . . You’ve done a lot of great things for the city, all because of you, Buddy. We need you to run,” said caller Mark from Providence, before embarking on a tangent about “crooks in the State House.”
“If you became mayor,” said Jerry from Exeter, “you could set an example to straighten the place out.”
The whole thing was “classic Buddy,” Stanton said. “Waiting for the last minute, commanding the media, and bringing the circus back to town.”