EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Buddy Cianci, the twice-convicted felon who led Providence as mayor for 21 years, wants his old job back.
Cianci said Wednesday that he is running as an independent for a seventh term as mayor. The last time he won an election was 16 years ago — before he was convicted in 2002 of racketeering conspiracy for widespread corruption in his administration. He spent 4 ½ years in prison.
Cianci, 73, said he has the right combination of vision, experience and ability to get things done. He said Providence can’t afford to have a mayor who is getting “on-the-job training.”
He made the announcement on his radio show, telling listeners he decided to join the field after much soul-searching and reflection.
“This is a great city. I miss being mayor, and I love being mayor,” he said during a break in his show. “I felt I had some unfinished business.”
He told a caller he knows “the long knives are going to come out.”
Cianci’s announcement came shortly before the 4 p.m. filing deadline; a surrogate filed his paperwork for him at City Hall. He will take a leave from the show and from his duties as a local television commentator during the campaign.
Cianci previously won office as a Republican and independent.
He was diagnosed in January with cancer and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but says his health is good now and won’t keep him from running a campaign or the city. He said his final radiation treatment is Friday.
Under his watch, the city transformed from a down-at-the-heels urban center with a dwindling downtown to an arts and culture hub. He often boasts that he literally moved rivers to improve the downtown.
He was the city’s biggest cheerleader, and joked that as mayor he would attend the opening of an envelope. Stories abound in the city of times when Cianci would show up unannounced and uninvited to the smallest event, including neighborhood cookouts.
He also became known nationally for his personality, his rotating stock of toupees and his pasta sauce, which he sells to fund scholarships for Providence children. (After prison, he decided to stop wearing “the squirrel” — his name for the hairpiece.)
Supporters had urged him to run to bring his vision and attitude back to City Hall, but many residents feared a run by a man who was driven from office twice by felony convictions would embarrass the city.
Cianci mounted his first campaign in 1974 and never lost a mayoral election. But he was forced to resign in 1984, after he was convicted of using a fireplace log and lit cigarette to assault a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife. Six years after that conviction, in 1990, he ran for mayor again and won.
His second stint as mayor, known around town as Buddy II, came to an end in 2002 when he was convicted as part of a federal investigation into corruption in City Hall, called Operation Plunder Dome by the FBI. Several members of his administration were convicted.
The demographics of the city, which usually votes heavily Democratic, have changed since Cianci last won election. Its Hispanic population grew nearly one-third between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics represented 38 percent of the population in 2010.
A crowded field is vying to replace Mayor Angel Taveras, who is mounting a run for governor. Democrats running include City Councilman Michael Solomon, political operative Brett Smiley and law professor and former judge Jorge Elorza. Republican Dan Harrop is also running. Businessman Lorne Adrain filed as an independent.
In statements, Smiley said Cianci’s candidacy represents the corrupt politics of the past, while Adrain said: “The people of Providence are well familiar with his history.” Solomon said voters want to keep “moving forward.”
Hannah Barnard, 22, of Providence, said she thinks Cianci’s run is a good idea.
“He knows a lot of people so he can do what he can with his networks to help the city,” said Barnard. She said she works in the Providence Place Mall, the retail behemoth that Cianci helped get built.
Voter Gibran Gonzalez, 21, of Providence, said he would not support Cianci because of his history.
“Things are tight in Rhode Island right now. We need good leaders in politics,” said Gonzalez, who studies business management at the University of Rhode Island. “I think someone else deserves a chance.”