The Buddy Cianci Redemption Tour is officially over.
Cianci, the twice-serving, twice indicted mayor of Providence, Rhode Island has fallen just short in his effort to lead the city that he helped rebuild for a third time.
Instead, Jorge Eloza, the child of Guatemalan immigrants who grew up in poverty on the city’s west side, eventually attending Harvard Law school and serving as a housing court judge, will lead Rhode Island’s largest city.
Cianci had to leave City Hall during his first tenure after he pleaded no contest to assaulting a man he thought was his estranged wife’s lover. He ran again six years later and won, overseeing the city’s renaissance. But that tenure ended when he was sent to prison for five years on a racketeering charge.
Cianci spent the last seven years as a popular talk radio host, and surprised many by announcing on air that, after many flirtations with a comeback, he was at last going to seek re-election to his old job.
He was the larger-than-the-life figure, and he loomed impossibly large over this campaign. Everywhere one went in the city over the past several days, talk seemed to turn to Cianci and whether he would win his former post back.
“If he wins, it would be an absolute disgrace. We would be a national laughingstock,” said one retiree inside a local coffee shop. “But I tell you, I hope he does. Most people do. All politicians are corrupt. You can’t forget what he did for this city.”
Cianci spent the last several days campaigning in the Buddy-Mobile, an SUV plastered with posters of himself. And in a town where politics can often be an understated, handshake-by-handshake affair, Cianci was followed by an entourage and a video crew. His campaign signs were not the standard issue rectangles, but nearly half a billboard, taking up the better part of the Providence yards of any homeowners enthusiastic enough to plant them.
As he was greeting voters today, Elorza, who began the race as a virtual unknown, said that his message of “honest government and a new direction” was set to carry the day.
Asked if he thought Cianci could provide “honest government,” Elorza nearly doubled over with laughter.
“I don’t think so. That is not their way. That is not his way.”
Elorza won, in the end, because much of the Italian and Portuguese middle class that supported Cianci in his nearly two decades in office has left the city for the suburbs, leaving being a stratified Providence that has more richer and poorer residents than before, according to Scott Mackay, a political analyst with Rhode Island public radio.
“Reporters love a good narrative, and they really fueled this Buddy mania thing. Is he going to be a changed Michael Corleone? These things get outsized attention.”
Standing in front of a Catholic school-turned-polling place in one of the affluent Providence neighbors that decisively negated Cianci’s return, the former mayor rejected Elorza’s charge, noting that “everyone makes mistakes.”
“I am going to leave him the low road that he has been taking the whole campaign,” Cianci added. “I respect him, I respect his story, but frankly you can’t be a mayor by just reading a textbook. You have to have the soul of the city inside your body and you have to know the people.”
On Tuesday night, the people who know Cianci best decided that they know him a little too well to ask him back to lead their city.