EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Buddy Cianci, the twice-convicted felon who led Providence as mayor for 21 years, wants his old job back.
Cianci said Wednesday that he is running as an independent for a seventh term as mayor. The last time he won an election was 16 years ago -- before he was convicted in 2002 of racketeering conspiracy for widespread corruption in his administration. He spent 4 1/2 years in prison.
Cianci, 73, said he is not seeking redemption, but wishes to bring his experience and vision to the city to make a difference. He said Providence can't afford to have a mayor who is getting "on-the-job training."
Making an announcement on his radio show, Cianci said that many people would call this an eleventh-hour decision, but that he decided to join the field after much soul-searching and reflection. He said he wants to rekindle the city's "renaissance."
"If the people don't want me, they don't have to vote for me. I realize I have baggage," he said during a break in his show. "They know who I am. They know what I am. And they know what I've accomplished."
Cianci's announcement came shortly before the 4 p.m. filing deadline; a surrogate filed his paperwork for him at City Hall. He will take a leave from the show and from his duties as a local television commentator during the campaign.
Cianci previously won office as a Republican and independent.
He was diagnosed in January with cancer and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but says his health is good now and won't keep him from running a campaign or the city.
Under his watch, the city transformed from a down-at-the-heels urban center with a dwindling downtown to an arts and culture hub. He often boasts that he literally moved rivers to improve the downtown.
Supporters had urged him to run to bring his vision and attitude back to City Hall, but many residents feared a run by a man who was driven from office twice by felony convictions would embarrass the city.
Cianci mounted his first campaign in 1974 and never lost an election. But he was forced to resign in 1984, after he was convicted of using a fireplace log and lit cigarette to assault a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife. Six years after that conviction, in 1990, he ran for mayor again and won.
His second stint as mayor, known around town as Buddy II, came to an end in 2002 when he was convicted as part of a federal investigation into corruption in City Hall, called Operation Plunderdome by the FBI. Several other members of his administration were also convicted.
The city's demographics have changed since Cianci last won election. Its Hispanic population grew nearly one-third between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics represented 38 percent of the population in 2010. The city usually votes heavily Democratic.
A crowded field of candidates is vying to replace one-term Mayor Angel Taveras, who is mounting a run for governor. Democrats running include City Councilman Michael Solomon, political operative Brett Smiley and law professor and former judge Jorge Elorza. Republican Dan Harrop is also running. Lorne Adrain filed as an independent.
A few of the candidates issued immediate statements reacting to Cianci's entry.
"Providence cannot afford to return to the corrupt politics of the past, and that is what Buddy Cianci's candidacy represents," Smiley said.
Solomon said he -- not Cianci -- is the candidate of experience, having worked in recent years with Taveras to bring the city back from the brink of bankruptcy. He said voters want to "keep moving forward."
Adrain said Cianci's announcement won't affect his campaign.
"The people of Providence are well familiar with his history," he said.