Metro

Financial problems, Cianci’s history frame mayoral debate

Harrop ’76 MD’79 willing to consider bankruptcy, Elorza touts plans for waterfront development

By
Metro Editor
Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Independent mayoral candidate Vincent “Buddy” Cianci addressed his tumultuous past in a debate Tuesday that featured attacks on his record.

A heated mayoral debate between Independent Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Democrat Jorge Elorza and Republican Daniel Harrop ’76 MD’79 at Rhode Island College featured a series of pointed personal attacks in front of a packed crowd of fervent supporters Tuesday evening.

Elorza, a former housing court judge, said he would create jobs and improve the city’s education system, while Harrop, a psychiatrist who has lost two previous bids for mayor, emphasized his fiscally conservative policies and plans for balancing the city’s budget and pension system. Cianci, who served as mayor of Providence from 1975 to 1984 and from 1991 to 2002, said he revitalized the city in his past terms and “raised the self-esteem” of its residents, adding that he would continue to rejuvenate the city if elected again.

WPRI reporters Ted Nesi and Tim White and Providence Journal reporter Ed Fitzpatrick co-moderated the debate, with White introducing the candidates.

Cianci’s first stint as mayor ended when he was forced to resign after pleading guilty to felony assault charges, while his second period at City Hall ended in 2002 when he was convicted of racketeering. He subsequently served five years in federal prison.

The debate centered on the city’s financial future, public safety and waterfront development, but White opened the floor by addressing the elephant in the room — Cianci’s criminal record and unexpected entry into the race in June. In a contest where the former Providence mayor’s record is front-and-center, “why are more than one in three voters supporting Cianci?” White asked.

A Sept. 23 poll released by WPRI showed Cianci with a 6 point lead over his nearest rival — the former mayor captured 38 percent of votes, while Elorza came in at 32 percent and Harrop at 6 percent. But the poll also found that 21 percent of city voters are undecided in the contest.

“I’ve made mistakes in my life. I’m sorry for them. I’m humbled by them,” Cianci said. He acknowledged his criminal record but stressed his experience and legacy as mayor, citing the revitalization of the downtown area, the creation of Waterfire and the construction of Providence Place Mall as positive developments under his leadership.

“I’m not apologizing for my last administration,” Cianci added.

But Elorza and Harrop said they were not convinced that Cianci would serve a term free from ethical missteps. “Let’s leave behind all the corruption,” Elorza said.

Cianci has a “half-century history of recurrent, thuggish criminal behavior,” Harrop said. Cianci also failed to fully fund the pension system in six of his last seven years as mayor in the 1990s, putting a “yoke around the city’s neck and driving us down,” Harrop added.

Elorza joined in attacking the Independent candidate, claiming that the decisions Cianci made as mayor led to an unsustainable rise in cost-of-living adjustments for city pensions, an issue that contributed to the Providence budget crisis in recent years.

But Cianci said he took the Providence Retirement Board to court during his term and came up with a plan to fully fund the city pension system, noting that Providence contributed 80 percent of its annual required contributions in 2002.

When Nesi asked if he would have the city file for bankruptcy if elected mayor, Harrop responded that he would put the city in receivership and possibly file for bankruptcy as a next step. Such an approach is necessary because “we are essentially insolvent,” he said.

But Elorza and Cianci both said they would not file for bankruptcy if elected mayor.

Instead, Elorza said he would move forward with an “aggressive job creation program,” a return of heavy industry to the Providence waterfront and a broadening of the tax base to ease the city’s financial woes.

Harrop “wants us to look like Detroit,” Cianci said, referring to Harrop’s willingness to declare bankruptcy.

Providence should take advantage of having one of only two deep-water ports in New England to double exports over the next five years and bring back more heavy industry to the area, creating 1,500 “working-class” jobs, Elorza said.

“He speaks very eloquently, but he doesn’t say anything,” Cianci said of Elorza, questioning Providence’s exporting capacities.

Instead of using the entire area as a working zone, the waterfront should be utilized as a mixed-use area with a working zone, businesses and accessible recreation areas, Cianci said.

Responding to a question from Fitzpatrick on how he would reduce crime in Providence, Elorza said he would raise the number of police officers in the city to 490 and increase incentives for police officers to live in Providence and get to know their communities.

Elorza said he would also aim for “more diversity within the police force,” adding that the city needs more officers who are women and racial minorities. Providence needs the “police force to represent the community,” he added.

Fitzpatrick noted that Providence has averaged 14 homicides per year during the Taveras administration, versus 25 per year during the Cianci administration, asking Cianci how he plans to keep the city safe if elected.

Cianci said it is difficult to compare the two time periods, but he would work to put more officers on the streets and to increase community-based policing to ensure police officers stayed in touch with their neighborhoods.

Harrop said he would also like to add more officers to the city’s police force but acknowledged that he would stabilize the city’s budget first by putting it in receivership, slowing down the process of hiring new officers.

All three candidates agreed that they would work to change zoning laws to remove nightclubs from the Federal Hill neighborhood.

Cianci and Harrop both said they oppose the Taveras administration’s plan to construct a streetcar route in Providence, calling the plan impractical and wasteful, while Elorza said he supports the streetcar plan.

The debate at RIC was the first to be televised for the general election.

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