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Cicilline wins Democratic primary for Providence mayor
By Brian Carovillano, Associated Press, 09/11/02
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- David Cicilline, the openly gay son of a well-known mob lawyer, on Tuesday became the heir apparent to the office long held by convicted former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr.
With all precincts reporting, Cicilline won the Democratic primary with 53 percent, while former Mayor Joseph Paolino had 33 percent. State Sen. David Igliozzi posted 11 percent of the vote, and attorney Keven McKenna had 3 percent.
Cicilline, an attorney and state legislator, entered the mayoral race long before Cianci's June corruption conviction. He campaigned on a clean government platform, vowing to abolish the old cash-for-favors politics that have long dominated City Hall.
"This campaign began seven months ago and really has focused on change in our city," Cicilline told The Associated Press. "The voters obviously listened to the message and are ready for a mayor who's going to move the city forward."
Minutes later, he told about 400 chanting supporters who gathered at the carousel in Roger Williams Park: "I promise you the best days in this city are ahead of us. We are on the verge of something really great in this city."
Cicilline, 41, who lives in a mansion on the city's affluent East Side, drives a Rolls Royce and wears designer suits, is perhaps the candidate best qualified to carry on Cianci's reputation for a high-rolling lifestyle.
The longest-serving mayor in Providence history, Cianci presided over the state's capital city for 21 years with a mix of hardball politics and panache. But he was forced from office last week after a federal judge sentenced him to more than five years in prison for his racketeering-conspiracy conviction.
Acting Mayor John Lombardi, the former City Council president, is serving out the remainder of Cianci's term, but decided not to run for the office in November.
Political pundits have predicted that the primary winner is likely to win in November's general election against Republican David Talan, Green Party candidate Greg Gerritt and independent Christopher Young. But Cicilline insisted he won't take the challenge lightly.
"I don't think you can take anything for granted," he said. "We'll continue to work hard until we get to the November election."
His supporters praised Cicilline for reaching out to a diverse group of voters in every neighborhood. At his victory celebration, the speeches were translated into Spanish.
"Look around -- look at all the diversity," said supporter Elizabeth Colon, who lives on the city's predominantly black and Hispanic south side, where Cicilline's campaign headquarters are located. "Look at all the economic backgrounds, all the classes. It just goes to show what a man like Cicilline can do."
Paolino, who served as mayor from 1984 to 1990 and later was the U.S. ambassador to Malta, quickly offered his congratulations and support to Cicilline.
"That kid ran a hell of a race," he told supporters who gathered in a hotel ballroom. "He cares about this city. ... I hope he becomes the best mayor that Providence ever had. I mean that."
Paolino, 47, completed Cianci's term the last time his legal troubles forced him to leave office, after he pleaded no contest to charges he attacked his ex-wife's lover with a lit cigarette and fireplace log. Paolino was re-elected in 1986, then staged a failed gubernatorial bid in 1990, the same year Cianci returned to office.
Pundits had said Igliozzi, a former city councilor who served as a lawyer in the Cianci administration, would drain votes from Paolino.
But University of Rhode Island political scientist Marc Genest said Cicilline's 20 percent margin of victory proves that he would have won even if Igliozzi hadn't run.
"Voters turned to Cicilline because he was the most articulate spokesman for change in the city of Providence," Genest said. "He had the courage to come out early, even when it looked like he'd be running against Buddy Cianci."
If he wins in November, Cicilline will inherit a city in some disarray. Cianci's departure leaves a leadership vacuum. With no superintendent of schools following Diana Lam's sudden departure, and no permanent police chief despite a two-year national search, the next mayor will inherit a blank slate along with a $30 million budget deficit.
But the outgoing mayor also leaves behind a legacy of urban renewal.
Even as Cianci was overseeing a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for favors from the city, Providence was undergoing a transformation.
Rivers long diverted through underground culverts were reclaimed, and the city earned a national reputation for its restaurants and cultural attractions.
Despite these successes, none of the four Democrats sought Cianci's endorsement -- not surprising considering the revelations of sordid backroom dealings that came out during his seven-week trial in federal court.
Still, throughout the primary the four Democrats latched onto many of Cianci's pet causes while distancing themselves from the man himself.
Like Cianci, they courted votes from the gay and arts communities, and pledged to extend the "Providence renaissance" beyond downtown and into the city's blighted neighborhoods.
"You can live your whole life here and never really see the neighborhoods," said Cicilline supporter Ed Skinner, 62, who lives in the city's University Heights district. "(Cicilline) is the one candidate who can bring Providence into 21st century."