Ric Santurri: The Big Question– Can Cianci Win?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014


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The initial Buddy Is Running tsunami has rolled over Providence, the state, the country, and apparently from stories like this one, the world.  Now the big question is whether Vincent A. Cianci can be elected mayor of Providence. 

The short answer is Yes. 

Providence Voting Blocs and the Old Providence

There is a large bloc of Providence voters who won't vote Cianci for mayor under any circumstance.  I'm guessing that number is between forty and fifty percent of the electorate.   For most candidates in most races, that would be the kiss of death.  In this one, with four candidates figuring to be available to the voters in the general election in November, and three figuring to be viable, credible candidates, that's just a minor but not unexpected inconvenience for Buddy. 

On the flip side, there is a decent sized bloc of voters who will support Cianci regardless of the situation.   Providence is a city of voter blocs, and I'm expecting around 24% of the vote from the East Side, 24% Latino,  6% African-American, 6% left leaning, progressive non-East Siders (gays, hipsters, artists, activists, and all the rest of the interesting people who make Providence an interesting city) and finally, Buddy's people, the “Old Providence” bloc, at about 40%. 

The Old Providence vote is comprised of long time, mostly white residents in neighborhoods like Silver Lake, Elmhurst, the North End, Mt. Pleasant, and the elderly high-rises across the city.  Despite this bloc dramatically dropping in numbers in the past two decades, (Providence has 40% less white residents since the first Buddy comeback in 1990), these voters are eligible to vote at twice the rate of Hispanic voters, 81% to 41%, and are a voting bloc that reliably and religiously goes to the polls each election. 

The Four Way Field

I'm guessing that Cianci already has a solid core of around half of this Old Providence electorate, which would be around 20% of the general election vote.  The ballot in November will include independent Cianci, GOP habitual candidate Dan Harrop, businessman Lorne Adrain, also running as an indy, and the Democratic nominee, either Brett Smiley, Jorge Elorza, or Michael Solomon.  Cianci's chances rise and fall on two main factors: who becomes that Demcoratic nominee, and if Adrain can mount a credible campaign. 

Harrop's past runs, and the incredibly poor showing of Providence's GOP candidates the past three elections, where most can barely scrounge up 15% of the vote, signals to me that he might have trouble achieving that figure.  In his race, there will be pressure on more conservative voters, especially those with an anti-Cianci bent, to not “waste” their vote on a candidate that is perceived as not having a chance to win.  Dan Harrop is an earnest guy, running with the best intentions, but these are the challenges he's going to face in November.

Assuming Harrop snags 10% of the vote, that would leave 90% for the other three candidates to scrap over.  This is where the Adrian Viability Factor kicks in.  Adrain will have to raise a half million bucks, and as a virtual unknown without the benefit of a primary race to put his face out in front of voters, he will need every one of those dollars to get known by the electorate.  Adrain is an impressive guy with a strong business background in a city that must attract business, and he also has a record of community involvement that will play well. If he's in it to win it, and has the fire in the belly to be a hard charging candidate, Adrain could be viable.  If Lorne is a contender, there's a good chance the next mayor of Providence will be selected with only 31-33% of the vote.

Cianci's Chances Change Based on Democratic Nominee.

Putting aside the troubling idea that we could have a mayor that 70% of the electorate rejected, Cianci's chances change dramatically based on the Democratic nominee.  Right now, all the non-Cianci candidates are virtual unknowns, with very little name recognition, but that will change between now and September 9th

Cianci's best chance would be with East Side favorite Brett Smiley as the Democrat, figuring that he and fellow East Sider Adrain would cannibalize that voting bloc. With this field, Smiley or Adrain would have to win the East Side in a big way to beat Buddy.  Even if one gets 30% of the East Side vote, that vote drain will prove fatal to the other.  

Cianci's worst option is if Solomon manages to prevail in the primary, since they share the same base.  This field most resembles the 1990 field, with Solomon as the Annaldo-esque Democratic machine candidate and Adrain as the Lippett-y East Side favorite.  Buddy could still make it, since Solomon has his own ethical questions to answer, like his stiffing city residents on a half million dollar loan for decades  

Solomon's Ethical Kiss of Death

How can someone sit as mayor and demand that residents pay what they owe the city, like tax payments and loans, when that mayor was so egregiously delinquent on such a big loan for such a long period of time, since 1988,  like Solomon?  Some are rooting for Solomon to win the primary just to see how he reacts when Cianci starts tearing into him on Solomon's ethical problems.  Cianci's have been vetted ad infinitum, so attacks on Cianci based on ethics is beating a dead horse.   Once the spotlight is turned on Solomon's checkered history as a deadbeat and backroom politician, he's going to have a problem convincing the Old Providence bloc to pick him over Buddy, never mind trying to convince East Siders and progressives to choose him over Adrain.   

Even if Solomon could manage to come up with a lame excuse why he couldn't make loan payment for a quarter century, what has this businessman been doing over those past 25 years since he took out the loan with the city?  Has he made ANY money since then, so he could pay back at least a chunk of that loan?  Probably, since Solomon has dumped $297,000 of his own money into his own campaign.  Solomon's own political ambition might be more important to him than making good on a huge debt to the people of Providence, but I don't think voters will see it the same way. 

Elorza and it's a Toss Up

Elorza as the Democrat makes the most interesting race, with Jorge, Buddy and Adrain able to claim one of the three major voting blocs.  Assuming feelings aren't too bruised among the losing Democrats and their supporters, Elorza could nibble at the non-Hispanic blocs, and has the left wing/progressive bona fides to attract many of the same East Side voters that supported Taveras in 2010 at a huge plurality.  Elorza would also be helped if Angel Tavaras prevails in his primary for governor, which would pump up the Latino vote in the general election.  

Early Handicapping of the Field- The Recap

Smiley, Cianci, Adrain, Harrop– advantage Cianci.

Solomon, Cianci, Adrain, Harrop – advantage Adrain (assuming he has $500K in campaign funds), with Buddy second and Solomon virtually with no path to victory.  Cianci would have to carve up Solomon badly in order to win.

Elorza, Cianci, Adrain, Harrop – advantage Elorza, with Buddy viable if he can snag a lot of Solomon's primary vote and Adrain is formidable enough to attract East Side votes from Elorza.

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Ric Santurri is a Providence real estate investor and broker.  A graduate of the URI School of Journalism, he has been involved in RI politics for over three decades.  The past few years, Ric has been keenly focused on Providence, mainly budget and tax policy, politics and elections, and quality of life issues.  Feel free to send comments, tips, and info to [email protected]


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