Ric Santurri: Buddy Cianci’s Math Problem
Friday, October 03, 2014
The only (and much noted) poll so far shows the former mayor at 38 percent, Democrat Jorge Elorza at 32 percent, Republican Dan Harrop at a meager 6 percent, and a whopping 21 percent of voters undecided. These numbers jibe with a poll released by the campaign of vanquished Democratic primary candidate Michael Solomon in late August that had almost the identical figures.
At first glance, those numbers may look promising for a Cianci victory. Up six points, with at least 91 percent name recognition and enough campaign cash for the short sprint to Election Day, usually puts the average candidate in great position for a win. Of course, since he is running for mayor as a two-time felon, Buddy isn't the average candidate. Assuming Harrop stays in the race, he will pull around 6 percent of the vote (I don't see Harrop drawing appreciably more votes from either Elorza or Cianci, so him staying in the race won't dramatically affect the outcome). The winner will then need to garner around 47.5 percent of the vote. If Cianci's 38 percent support is solid, and I think it is, he's going to need to pull just less than 10 percent of the undecided vote.
However, there are a number of factors that weigh heavily on Cianci growing his number from 38 percent. I'm estimating that around 35,000 votes will be cast for mayor this year. There are 15 wards in the city, with three wards combining for 20 percent of the vote. Wards 1, 2, and 3 on the East Side comprised 30 percent of the vote for mayor in 2010 and 28 percent of the Democratic primary vote this year. Along with the outsized vote totals from the East Side, these wards tend to support progressive Democratic candidates in huge pluralities. Elorza snagged 68 percent of the primary vote against Solomon's 26 percent in the primary. Angel Taveras in 2010 and David Cicilline in 2002 also racked up big leads on the East Side (both over well known, experienced candidates of Italian heritage), making them unbeatable when the rest of the city’s votes were tallied.
Cianci's East Side Math Problem
I expect a minimum of 10,000 votes to again come off the East Side this November, at least 28.5 percent of the total (a full 30 percent of the 2010 vote for mayor came off the East Side). If they go big for Elorza at 67 percent, with Harrop grabbing 6 percent there, Buddy's 27 percent would leave him with a 4,000 vote deficit coming off the East Side. This big deficit might prove insurmountable to overcome when the rest of the city is tallied.
Assuming Harrop polls steady citywide at 6 percent, there will be about 23,500 non-East Side votes up for grabs between Cianci and Elorza. Assuming my estimate of the East Side turnout percentage and Elorza's East Side strength is correct, Cianci will have to win 60 percent of the non-East Side vote to get the win (14,300 votes to 9,200). Can independent Cianci swamp Elorza that badly in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, with such a big Latino voting bloc? Another big factor may be the more than 6,000 newly registered voters, many courtesy of an ambitious voter registration drive that focused on the city's burgeoning Latino population.
The number of voters in the September primary was down around 20 percent from 2010. The Latino community turned out in big numbers in 2010 when energized by Angel Taveras' mayoral run, but there wasn't that big a turnout this September on the East Side. Elorza, who is of Guatemalan descent, didn't do a good job in the primary connecting with Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, many of whom supported his opponent Michael Solomon. With endorsements from three substantial Latino Democratic political leaders, Rep. Grace Diaz, Sen. Juan Pichardo, and Councilwoman Sabina Matos, Elorza should do much better on the South Side in the general election. Diaz and Matos were integral in helping Gina Raimondo tally more votes in Providence than Angel Taveras for Governor by swaying many Latino voters into the Raimondo camp. These political leaders have a solid history of turning out votes for their candidates.
The Master Lever – One Last Time
Assuming 8,000 Latino voters this year, which is probably low, and with Elorza slightly bettering Cianci 53 to 47 percent with this voting bloc, Cianci would have to trounce Elorza (in the non-East Side, non-Latino, “Old Providence” vote) 10,000 to 5000 for the win. Can a non-Democrat, even a powerhouse like Cianci, rack up this kind of huge plurality, with this voting bloc, in this overwhelmingly Democratic city? Unfortunately for Buddy, the master lever will be making its final appearance on a RI ballot this election. Looking at research from GoLocalProv's Stephen Beale yesterday, between 20-40 percent of Providence general election votes have been master lever (ML) votes in the past few elections, with the lower number coming in a year with a strong independent candidate with much appeal to Providence voters. In 2010, with the ML vote in Providence at “only” 21.7 percent, Lincoln Chafee destroyed his opponents in Providence, with 17,581 votes to Democrat Frank Caprio's 10,500. Unbelievably, two thirds of Caprio's votes were master lever votes, resulting in only 3,500 out of 34,295 total votes for governor actually being tallied next to Caprio's name. There were over 7,000 master lever Democratic votes in 2010 and 12,000 in 2012.
How Democratic is Providence? The ratio of Democrats to Republicans voting in the September primary was 22 to 1. There hasn't been a non-Democrat elected to a Providence office since David Segal won the Ward 1 council seat in a four-way race as a Green Party candidate in 2002 and no Republican has won office in Providence since 1986. I expect around 20 percent of the Providence vote to be master lever votes and this, combined with a big Elorza advantage on the East Side, will make a Cianci victory mathematically very difficult. If the 20 percent ML vote comes citywide, that would mean that out of the 15,000 “Old Providence” vote, which Cianci must dominate two to one to win, Elorza will already get 3,000 of those votes merely because a voter chose the Democratic slate. That would mean that Cianci will have to get 10,000 of the remaining 12,000 individually tallied, non-ML votes, with Elorza tallying only 2,000. It's extremely difficult to beat anyone by a 5 to1 margin with any voting bloc.
How Cianci Can Change the Math
How can Buddy's campaign change the math? First, he has to prevent a slaughter on the East Side. This bloc has demonstrated that they care more about ideology than experience, choosing the callow Taveras over long-time councilman John Lombardi in 2010 and legislator Cicilline, who had no administrative experience, over former mayor Paolino in 2002. Ironically, they also supported a young, inexperienced, relatively unknown, assistant state prosecutor, Vincent Cianci, over sitting mayor Joe Doorley in 1974. Buddy must keep the East Side deficit manageable, somewhere around 60 percent for Elorza and 34 percent for Cianci, giving Elorza a lead of “only” 2,600 votes coming off the East Side.
I've heard from many East Siders who have been disgusted by the lack of basic city services the past few years. The more potholes hit by these usually Democratic, progressive voters, the better for Buddy. There could be a “Mussolini might have been a tyrant, but he got the trains to run on time” element to this election if Buddy can limit his losses on the East Side. Campaign co-chair and Ward 3 Councilman Kevin Jackson should be a big help in this regard, since he has strong history of turning out votes in big numbers for candidates he supports.
After controlling the bleeding on the East Side, Buddy has to further narrow the gap on the South Side. Solomon, with the help of the Latino Democratic establishment, stymied Elorza on the South Side. Cianci doesn't have that support. But, Cianci does have a generation of good will with many people in the Latino community. All those appearances at funerals, parties, and quinceanera celebrations by Cianci, who once quipped that he would “go to the opening of an envelope,” may now pay off. If Cianci can get in a dead heat with Elorza on the South Side, he can make up a 2,600 vote deficit with the Old Providence bloc, which seems to be as energized as it has been since his last comeback in 1990.
Paths to Victory
So Buddy's path to victory is clear. Work the South Side with street teams, fighting door to door for votes. Appeal to East Side voters by stressing his experience in properly running the city, along with the lack of any experience by Elorza. And finally, wring out every single vote in the Old Providence bloc, growing that vote total to make up any East Side deficit.
I'm only going to mention the clean sweep of endorsements by Providence public sector unions for Cianci as an aside. The unions can provide election foot soldiers in the ground game for votes, but Cianci doesn't have a shortage of campaign workers. Any monetary contributions will help, of course. But, because the removal of residency requirements for city workers has rendered the vast majority of them as observers, this election isn't going to be decided by union endorsements. Cianci doesn't have a shortage of campaign workers or cash. However, he might have a shortage of votes and that's where these endorsements would have had a huge impact a quarter-century ago when city workers lived in Providence. Unfortunately for Buddy, that's no longer the case.
This race is going to be close and, precluding a major mistake, decided by the electoral landscape. Elorza's camp knows the numbers and that's why we've seen a very cautious general election campaign by them. Elorza's campaign knows that Cianci’s support number hasn’t grown from 38 percent. So, with 60 percent of the electorate concerned with Cianci's criminal past, all they need to do is present Elorza as a reasonable alternative to Cianci and let the favorable electoral landscape do the work for them, as they did in the primary.
Since over a third of the electorate barely knows who Elorza is, (37 percent had no opinion on him), there's certainly lots of room for Elorza growth. Cianci, on the other hand, is a well known quantity, and may find it difficult to grow support. Almost everyone is familiar with Buddy, and if they're not with him already, there's usually a reason for it.
Buddy Needs to Play the Competency Card
With two thirds of those polled saying that Providence is going in the wrong direction, Cianci must make the election about administrative competence, and must define Elroza as ill equipped to run it. The Cianci campaign's early attempt to paint Elorza as an atheist fell flat, and if they're wise, they'd be stressing Cianci's ability to run the city properly, compared to the less than stellar performance we've seen in basic services since he left office. If Cianci can lump Elorza in with Cicilline and Taveras as inexperienced ideologues who have no clue how to be mayor, he can be effective in negatively defining Elorza. Buddy is at his best when he expounds on what a mayor needs to do to run a city successfully. Cianci should stress how his past success in bringing Providence back to life makes him best suited to do so again. The electoral math is daunting, with East Side hegemony, the Master Lever, and the burgeoning Latino vote being huge obstacles, but if anyone can overcome these hurdles, it's Cianci, who has never lost a mayoral election. Playing the competency card isn't as glamorous as introducing grandiose big plans for the city, and isn't as much fun as an attack campaign, but it could be the only road to victory for Cianci.
Related Slideshow: Buddy Cianci: Timeline of Major Events
Cianci was admitted to the Rhode Island bar in 1967 and was a Special Assistant Attorney General from 1969-1973.
In 1973, Cianci became the prosecutor of the Attorney General Department's Anti-Corruption strike force. He held that position until he decided to run for public office the following year.
Elected Mayor in 1974
Cianci ran for mayor of Providence in 1974, and his anti-corruption campaign led him to defeat incumbent Democrat Joseph Doorley.
Cianci was the first Republican mayor of Providence since the Great Depression and made history as the first Italian mayor in the city's history.
1980 Run for Governor
Cianci ran for Governor of Rhode Island in 1980, losing to incumbent Democrat J. Joseph Garrahy.
Cianci then decided to distance himself from the Republican Party, winning re-election as mayor in 1982 as an Independent candidate.
According to an article in politico, a dispute with then-Senator John Chafee led Cianci to leave the party. "And just to show how angry I was, I resigned from the Republican Party."
City Nearly Bankrupt
Shortly after his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, Cianci was faced with demands for his resignation due to the hard financial times Providence was experiencing.
The city was nearly bankrupt in 1981. Cinanci raised taxes, focing budget cuts and layoffs throughout the city and igniting a battle between the mayor and labor unions across Providence.
Cianci earned a reputation as a "strike-breaker" for his ability to defeat unions in labor negotiations.
Buddy v. Trash Collectors
Cianci engaged in a heated labor fight with the city's trash collectors in 1981, downsizing the number of workers on each truck from 4 to 3.
Cianci famously quipped "You can put two men in a spaceship and send them to the moon. You don’t need four on a garbage truck."
When the city's sanitation workers protested the cuts, Cianci hired a private company to come in and collect the trash. The mayor placed armed guards on the truck with the private company to ensure their safety.
Divorce and Assault
Cianci and his wife Sheila divorced in 1983, 18 moths after agreeing to a separation.
5 days after the divorce papers were signed, Cianci assaulted contractor Raymond DeLeo with a lit cigarette and a fireplace log. Cianci suspected that DeLeo had been having an affair with his former wife.
DeLeo told police Cianci appeared to be drunk when he invited him to his home and attacked him in front of city officials and employees, who did little to discourage Cianci's behavior.
Cianci was forced to resign as mayor in 1984 after being indicted on assault charges.
According to "The Prince of Providence" DeLeo had feared for his life and had kept quiet about the incident, but news leaked out in the weeks after the attack and it didn't take long for the prosecution to build a case.
Cianci pleaded no contest to assault charges stemming from the DeLeo incident.
Cianci was sentenced to a 5-year suspended sentence for his role in the DeLeo incident.
The former mayor of Providence was officially a convicted felon. His fall from grace did not last long, however, as Cianci would remain in the public eye shortly after receiving his sentence.
Special Election Attempt
A special election was held to fill the vacant mayor's office in 1984.
Cianci attempted to enter the special election, but the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that he could not run and attempt to succeed himself.
The RI General Assembly would pass a "Buddy Amendment" in 1986 that barred convicted felons from running for public office for 3 years after their sentence was up.
After resigning the mayor's office and being barred from running for public office, Cianci became a talk radio host on Providence's 920 AM station WHJJ.
The move kept Cianci relevant in the area while he remained out of public service, and it wasn't long before Cianci was back in politics.
The city began its "Renaissance" phase in Cianci's second stint as mayor.
The city became cleaner and attracted more tourism, and several key expansion projects were overseen by Cianci, including the acquisition of the Providence Bruins, the building of the Providence Place Mall, and the construction of a new train station downtown.
The Renaissance era was the height of Cianci's tenure as mayor. A glowing review from the Providence Phoenix in 1998 titled "Renaissance Man" opined "Buddy Cianci has done more than move rivers."
Cianci ran unopposed in 1998 for what would be his final election victory.
The FBI began investigating city hall in 1999 and uncovered the second major political scandal of Cianci's career.
Despite being a polarizing figure in local politics, Cianci has never lost a mayoral election.
April 2001 Indictment
In April 2001, Cianci was indicted on federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud.
Numerous other city officials were indicted in "Operation Plunder Dome." The prosecution's smoking gun was video footage of a bribe being accepted by Frank Corrente, Cianci's Director of Administration.
The Brown Daily Herald summed up the FBI investigation into city hall. "Patronage, bribes and city employees being required to buy tickets to Cianci fundraisers were all investigated, leading to the indictment of 24 city officials and the jailing of 19, including several top Cianci aides."
Cianci was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 5 years in federal prison.
Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal.
The mayor was forced to resign his office by law following the conviction. Cianci made a plea for an early release from prison in 2005, but that request was denied.
The Prince of Providence
Providence Journal political reporter Mike Stanton published a biography of Cianci's political career in 2004.
"The Prince of Providence" was critically acclaimed and shined a light on the political scene in Providence, as well as Cianci and his administrations' tenures in office.
Cianci penned his own book, "Politics and Pasta," and attemped to correct some of accounts from "The Prince of Providence" that he felt were inaccurate.
Ditching the Squirrel
Cianci was released in 2007, and had a noticeable change in appearance.
Cianci stopped wearing his toupee that had been dubbed "the squirrel." While Cianci lost the toupee, he didn't lose his sense of humor, calling his prison term an enjoyable stay at a "federally gated community."
“It’s kind of typical of him," former WPRI reporter Jim Taricani (who played a key role in the trial to convict Corrente and Cianci in 2002) told GoLocalProv. "He’s got this uncanny ability to, no matter what the adversity is, he bounces back from it.”.
Another Radio Return
Cianci returned to WPRO in 2007 and has hosted an afternoon talk show on the station through the present day.
Cianci also hosts a weekend television show on ABC. Even without holding public office, Cianci's thoughts on Providence and Rhode Island are seen and heard by thousands of people across the state.
Cianci was cleared by his doctors to run and he declared himself as an Independent candidate.
Cianci Passes Away
On January 28, 2016, Cianci died at age 74. The death was tied to complications relating to Cianci's battle with Cancer.
His former Chief of Staff Artin Coloian tells GoLocal, "He will be sadly missed. My heart breaks for his family. They've gone through quite a bit," said Coloian. "His accomplishments will live on."
- Ric Santurri: Taveras’ Providence Problem
- Ric Santurri: The Big Question– Can Cianci Win?
- Ric Santurri: All Buddy, All The Time
- Ric Santurri: Michael Solomon’s Ethics Problems
- Ric Santurri: Solomon – Do As I Say, Not As I Do
- Ric Santurri: Behind the Numbers in the Providence Mayoral Election
- Ric Santurri: Primary Predictions
- Ric Santurri: What the Solomon Poll Really Says about the Providence Mayor’s Race