(Providence, Rhode Island) – The most intriguing political story in the United States this past week came from the smallest state. Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., is running for Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, again. After serving as Mayor for 21 years – during two different stints that both ended in criminal conviction and resignation – Cianci is back for a third go, running as an independent. There is a lot of “Brunch” to chew on here:
“The Art of Political Forgiveness” – First of all, I wrote a column on Sunday, May 4, 2014, in which I laid out the historic pattern of political “forgiveness” American voters have bestowed upon failed leaders at the local state and federal level. So if you think Cianci is the exception to the rule, he’s not: http://markcurtismedia.com/blogs/mark-curtis/2014/may/03/%E2%80%9C-sunda...
“Independence Day” – No, I’m not talking about July 4th; I am talking about what freed Cianci to run as an independent this year. Even up until about 3:40 pm on Wednesday, it was not yet certain Buddy would run as an independent, or - for the first time - as a Democrat. The Cianci camp was watching the last-minute maneuvering of candidate Lorne Adrain, who was previously declared as a Democrat. If both ran as Democrats, it would have been a five-way primary race among the main candidates, with two “last-minute Charlie’s” jumping in. It was looking like a seven-person primary, but Adrain switched to independent at the eleventh hour, and so did Buddy. This may seem like minutiae, but it could give Cianci a huge tactical advantage. He avoids the primary fray, and saves his campaign cash until November, when the Democratic nominee may be wounded and broke by comparison.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” – Cianci runs hot and cold. There is no middle ground. People either love him or hate him. The Good: He and the late Governor Bruce Sundlun (and others) get wide praise for the renaissance of development in Downtown Providence in the 1990s, including the centerpiece Providence Place Mall. In a nation where city centers have died in many places, Providence blossomed. The Bad: Cianci was forced from office in 1984 because of an assault charge, accused of beating a man he suspected of having an affair with his wife. Cianci came back in 1990, only to be sent to prison in 2002 after being found guilty of one racketeering conspiracy charge. The Ugly: The Mayor’s race could affect every other race in Rhode Island this year, especially the one for Governor. Every candidate is being asked, “Where do you stand on Cianci?” Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.
“Missing the Party” – Now the three main Democrats must focus on the September 9th primary. They are City Council President Michael Solomon; Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza; and Water Board Member Brett Smiley. “Who?” you ask. Theirs are not exactly household names. Yes, gadfly Chris Young is in the race, too, and a couple of other ringers, but you know this is essentially a three-person race for the Democratic nomination. Meantime, all independent candidates – Cianci included - skip the primary and head straight to the November election.
“The Dead Can’t Vote” – For all the positives for Cianci, there are steep downsides. Senior citizens love Buddy and have helped him for years. Buddy is now 73 years old. Here’s where the problem lies. Anyone age 60-plus who voted when Cianci was first elected as a Republican in 1974, would now be 100 years old and is, in all likelihood, dead. Anyone age 60-plus who voted in Buddy’s huge 1990 comeback, would now be at least 84 years old, if still alive. Buddy last ran in 1998, so those 60-year-olds are now 76 plus (or dead). He was popular “back in the day,” but what about now?
“Buddy Who?” – On the other end of the demographic spectrum, many young voters have little knowledge or experience with Cianci. For example, voters who turn 18 this year and can cast a ballot were just six years old when Cianci last served and was then sent off to prison. By comparison, the other most viable candidates are much younger: Smiley is 34; Elorza, 37; and Solomon, 57. Certainly the many years he’s spent as a radio and TV commentator give him greater name recognition, even among those who don’t remember him as Mayor. Still, Cianci will have to mount an aggressive campaign on social media if he expects to garner a share of the youngest voters.
“Espanol” – The demographics of Providence have also changed dramatically since Buddy was last in office. From the 2000 U.S. Census to the 2010 Census, the Hispanic population of Providence increased by 42 percent. The city is now 38 percent Hispanic. That proved a big advantage for Angel Taveras, the city’s first Latino Mayor, and now a candidate for Governor. If Jorge Elorza becomes the Democratic nominee for Mayor this year, it will give him an edge, too. Cianci (and other non-Latino candidates) will need an effective Hispanic outreach operation to win.
“Why All this Matters” – I basically heard two voices this week. On one hand, many supporters and detractors alike were saying, “Buddy’s got it. He’ll win hands down!” On the other hand, ardent critics say, “He’s part of the city’s past; this election is about the future. There’s no way, people will elect Cianci!” The glaring overconfidence I saw on both sides was stunning. This race is by no means a slam dunk in either direction. The bottom line is that Buddy is a serious, viable contender in this race. He has a real shot, but not a guarantee. Just remember: In 1974 he was first elected as a Republican by just 722 votes (against a fractured Democratic party). In his 1990 comeback race, he won as an independent by just 317 votes. So, he does well in a big field in a divided city. Sound familiar? The 2014 race is shaping up very similar to 1974 and 1990.
(Editor’s note: As many readers know, Cianci is my co-worker at WLNE-TV, although he is now on a leave of absence. Today’s column is in no way an endorsement, nor do I ever endorse any candidates, in any race. This is political analysis – pure and simple – based on past polling data, demographic statistics, and past and current events. It’s going to be a fascinating race).
© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.
Photo Courtesy: Mark Curtis, ABC6 News.