Providence ex-mayor convicted of corruption considers run against Rep. Patrick Kennedy

By Ray Henry, AP
Monday, January 11, 2010

Convicted ex-mayor might run vs. RI Rep. Kennedy

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When he was released from prison in 2007, former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. said someone should slap him if he ever went back into politics.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy or the current mayor might have to wind up his backhand.

Not satisfied with criticizing politicians over the airwaves, the mayor-turned-radio talk show host says he is thinking about running against Kennedy, a member of the famous political family, or Mayor David Cicilline, who won office by denouncing Cianci as a corrupt hack.

“I’m not saying I’m running for a thing,” Cianci said on-air Monday. “But if I were to run, just think of how easy it would be.”

Cianci’s two stints as mayor make him the longest-serving one in Providence history.

He was first elected to the post in 1974 and was forced to resign 10 years later following his no-contest plea to assaulting a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife.

His second tenure during the 1990s coincided with the economic rebirth of a once-dingy downtown. Nightclubs and restaurants opened, new building began and crowds attended art displays held along the city’s rivers.

But prosecutors alleged that getting business done at City Hall all too often meant greasing a palm.

He was convicted of racketeering conspiracy in 2002 as part of a wide-ranging probe into City Hall corruption called Operation Plunder Dome. Cianci, who still maintains his innocence, served more than four years in federal prison before winning release in 2007.

His latest flirtation with politics was triggered by a telephone poll conducted last week by state Rep. John Loughlin, a Republican aiming to challenge Kennedy in November. As part of his research, Loughlin decided to ask whether those polled would support Cianci, who denounced Kennedy as a carpetbagger during his first campaign for the state Legislature in 1988.

Loughlin said the question was included because the campaign is “trying to work at every possible eventuality.”

Cianci said his name was also included in two polls on Providence city politics.

Loughlin wouldn’t release the results of his poll and Cianci doesn’t know who sponsored the other polls, but just having his name included has Cianci talking.

Cianci told reporters he’s “seriously thinking” about challenging Kennedy or Cicilline, who routinely denounces the corruption of the Cianci era and also is up for re-election this year.

“Seriously thinking about it means, yeah, if someone’s talking about it, I certainly would consider everything,” Cianci told The Associated Press. “But that doesn’t mean I’m a candidate.”

Spokespeople for Kennedy and Cicilline did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

It’s hard to gauge whether Cianci is serious. During his show, he spoke about politics with a mix of sentimentality and revulsion.

Talking about the campaign trail, he said: “They put their arm around you, and she’s sweating and then her husband’s got his face in your face saying, ‘Give my brother a job,’ as he spits all over you. ‘Oh, and by the way, can you get my kid in medical school?’”

But he also sees pervasive voter discontent. Rhode Island faces nearly 13 percent unemployment and massive state budget deficits. Nationally, Cianci said people are upset by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and frustrated with President Barack Obama.

“What I’m talking about is the brains to win an election,” Cianci said. “It’s easy. You don’t have to be a genius to win this time.”

A provision in Rhode Island’s constitution could prevent Cianci from running for state office until 2012 because of his criminal record, although Cianci believes that obstacle could be legally challenged. Nothing in federal law precludes his running for Kennedy’s seat, he said.

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