Ex-Con, Ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci Wants His Old Job Back

After nearly five years in prison, the Prince of Providence, Rhode Island announced Wednesday he would run for mayor as an independent. If he wins, it wouldn’t be the first time voters rewarded his bad behavior.

Gene Baker/

The ex-convict mayor of Providence, Rhode Island is coming back for more.

Buddy Cianci, the so-called Prince of Providence, announced on his daily radio show Wednesday afternoon that “I must yield to my conscience and to the urging of a host of my fellow citizens that I run for office.”

The announcement was a vintage bit of a political theater for a master political showman. Cianci came to the radio station trailed by his own camera crew and a host of local reporters, and once on air, said that he still had not made up his mind about whether to run, even though the deadline to file his paperwork was less than 45 minutes away. Meanwhile, Cianci apparently dispatched an aide to city hall while he asked callers in to his show whether or not he should run.

They were, needless to say, unanimously in favor.

“This is like a lovefest,” Cianci said at one point.

There were some moments of awkwardness. After Cianci cut for a commercial break that included a long spot for an erectile dysfunction clinic, he came back on the air for headlines at the half-hour mark. The news anchor sounded momentarily caught. “Well, Buddy,” she said. “We are waiting on you.”

After reading out an ad for the local airport, (“the check-in process is smooth and fast and keeps you moving”) Cianci read from his extensive prepared remarks.

“Once I had a youthful fire and ambition to play a prominent role in public life,” he said. “Today, the youth has fled, but the fire still burns.”

Cianci has twice served as mayor of Providence, the first time, from 1975-1984, a reign that ended when he was convicted of using a fireplace log and a lit cigarette to assault a man he believed was having an affair with his ex-wife.

Cianci won back his seat in 1991, only to get ensnared in legal problems again as part of an FBI sting called “Operation Plunderdome.” Cianci faced 17 charges of corruption and went to jail for four-and-a-half years on a conspiracy charge.

The sentencing judge declared that Cianci “presided over an administration that is rife with corruption at all levels” and “engaged in an egregious breach of trust.”

But Cianci rehabilitated his image through his radio show and media appearances, and he is largely credited now with helping turn the city around after a period of decline.

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Cianci is by no means a shoe-in for re-election, and his previous legal and ethical troubles are sure to be front and center in the race.

“If he runs, all you are going to see on your television are pictures of Buddy in an orange jumpsuit, the ‘city for sale’ stuff. I think his best day is the day he announces, and it all goes down from there,” Scott Mackay, a political analyst with Rhode Island Public Radio, told The Daily Beast in an interview earlier this month.

Cianci will run as an independent after winning elections both as a Republican and as a Democrat in this heavily Democratic city. This spares him a bruising primary battle and allows him to get votes from right-leaning Providence residents unable to vote in the Democratic primary in September.

But it also means that he foregoes much of the support of the local Democratic establishment, and denies him the chance to knock out his rivals early on, allowing whoever emerges in September to campaign with greater name id and more resources.

Cianci told The Daily Beast that he will spend up to $ 1 million of his own money on the race, and in a daylong tour around Providence, was not shy about knocking his two biggest rivals to the seat, City Council President John Solomon and Brett Smiley, an activist and political consultant.

“I mean, Solomon is the City Council president, but that doesn’t mean anybody knows him,” Cianci said. “He likes to talk about how he was on the Council when they figured out what to do about this $100 million deficit. Well, he was also on the Council when they created this $100 million deficit. That’s like saying I robbed a bank, but here’s the money back, so don’t arrest me.”

As for Smiley, “I don’t know him. He’s a gay guy, he met a guy here, they got married, and so he’s here. I guess he’s got nothing better to do so he runs for mayor. Ok. I don’t know what he has ever done. He has no roots here.”

In his announcement speech on-air, Cianci ran through his accomplishments from his time in office, including building the Providence Mall, saving historical buildings and making Providence a destination for artists. He mocked those who called it a “Back to the Future” moment, saying, “The back is my decades of experience and achievement” and proclaiming, “I am not a caretaker. I get things done.”

After he was finished, Cianci seemed unsure what to do next on his broadcast, now that the moment everyone was waiting for had passed.

“And there you have it,” he said. “After a long, uhh, long long speech, it’s there.”

He then cut to a traffic update, and promised to back in a few moments for more calls.