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Guest MINDSETTER™ Christi Reiss: Beyond the East Side: Different Post-Mortem of Cianci’s Defeat

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Buddy Cianci, affectionately known as the “Prince of Providence,” gained his celebrity status as a powerhouse of the city’s politics.  Despite being forced out of office twice for felony charges, Cianci revitalized Providence and brought it into its Renaissance.  When he first announced his candidacy in June, his followers were thrilled and called for his re-election.  Yet, on November 4, their beloved prince was dethroned by Democrat Jorge Elorza.  No longer would Cianci rule Providence from the mayor’s chair and people were shocked.  It begged the question of what went wrong beyond his criminal past and the loss of the East Side.

Buddy's Health

Buddy was at a disadvantage from the get-go.  The news of his cancer was well-known as early as February 2014. While he tried to shrug off the severity of it, his cancer still left the public wondering if he would be well enough to run again or, more importantly, run the city well if he did win. He squelched these questions in June by announcing his candidacy, but his decision to run came late, yet another obstacle for Cianci to overcome. While Buddy was waiting on a decision from his doctor, Elorza was building an organization.

As a newcomer to Providence politics, many felt that Elorza would not muster the support he needed to beat the long established Cianci, but they did not expect all of the implications of national attention on the race.  For beyond the human interest stories in the New York Times and New Yorker, President Obama himself endorsed Elorza, which was a major factor for undecided voters.

And, of course, there was his criminal past.  Three former U.S. Attorneys urged the public to vote against Cianci for this very reason.  In fact, that dark cloud played a large factor with swing voters, 64% of whom said in a mid-campaign poll that his criminal charges would affect how they voted.  Buddy’s situation continued to decline due to the fact that the core following of voters he appealed to during his first two terms, Italian and Portuguese residents, had since moved out of the city.  This left Buddy with a primary constituency made up of low income communities of color- not quite enough to overcome Elorza’s East Side advantage.

Campaign Failure

The failure of Buddy Cianci’s campaign can be traced back through a timeline beginning with his cancer diagnosis.  It caused a late entry and a loss of needed time to gain back support he lost while out of politics. Elorza, meanwhile, capitalized on Buddy’s time away.  He gained national support and locked in key parts of Providence, an already overwhelmingly Democratic city.  Each of these factors culminated in the ultimate end to the Prince’s campaign, leading to the shock and even dismay of many who wonder whether Providence bit the hand that fed it.

Christi Reiss is a political science major at Providence College. This piece was also signed by John O’Dell, Chelsea Petrick, Sydaya Tompkins, Justin Bolduc, Maddie Bumpus, Cassandra Caggiano, Vicki Deshaies, Justice Donoyan, Meredith Haluga, Broghan Kilroy, Kelley Kossmann, Alyssa Olsen, Chalayna Smart, and Brenna Williams, all students in Cedric de Leon’s Sociology 101 class. Cedric de Leon is associate professor of sociology at Providence College.


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