Updated Nov. 5 at 2:45 a.m.
The votes are in, the polls are closed and the city will be under the leadership of Mayor-elect Jorge Elorza beginning in January. After garnering 53.3 percent of the vote, Elorza, the Democratic nominee and a former housing court judge, will succeed Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat who has been mayor since January 2011. The mayoral race became especially prominent when former mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci declared his candidacy as an Independent candidate in June, capturing national attention, attracting input from former federal prosecutors and even pushing Republican mayoral candidate Daniel Harrop ’76 MD’79 to vote for Elorza.
Cianci won 43.8 percent of the vote, and Harrop came in last with 2.6 percent.
In his victory speech at the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s event at the Providence Biltmore Hotel, Elorza thanked voters and local and state representatives for their support and endorsements. Elorza said he had spoken with Cianci and Harrop before going on stage, adding that he would work for the people of Providence no matter whom they had voted for.
“I have enjoyed sharing my vision for one Providence — a city where we rise and succeed together — and my firm belief that we can only get there with honest leadership and a culture of ethics and transparency at City Hall,” he said.
Elorza also thanked the members of his campaign team and volunteers for helping pave his path to election, noting that despite the victory, there was “lots of work to do” in the future.
“It was a great ride,” Cianci said during his concession speech. “I was able to reconnect with the city I love very much. ... It’s a great, great love affair that I have with the city of Providence that will never end, that will continue until the day I die.”
Cianci’s candidacy quickly became a polarizing factor due largely to his history of corruption as Providence mayor, an office he previously occupied for a total of 20 years. Cianci’s first stint as mayor from 1975 to 1984 ended in his resignation when he plead guilty to felony charges of assault. His second tenure as mayor from 1991 to 2002 ended in “Operation Plunderdome,” an investigation into the ethics of his administration that found him guilty of racketeering — running the city as a criminal enterprise — and sentenced him to five years in federal prison.
Throughout the fall, the mayoral debates consistently featured Cianci’s past as an important concern for voters, who were divided by his presence on the ballot.
“He’s a polarizing figure. Very few people are lukewarm about Buddy Cianci,” Scott MacKay, a political analyst for Rhode Island Public Radio, told The Herald in June. Cianci’s entry into the race sent shockwaves through the city’s political scene, catalyzing alliances between other candidates and prompting Independent candidate Lorne Adrain to drop out of the race in July. Elorza and Harrop were united in their opposition to Cianci’s candidacy, prompting Harrop to donate $1,000 to Elorza’s campaign in mid-October and to cast his vote Tuesday for Elorza.
Elorza has promised to implement a fair and clean administration, casting himself as an antidote to Cianci’s corruption. Throughout the fall, incidents including Cianci’s acceptance of $18,000 in donations from city employees — after promising in September that he had not “taken a dime from any city worker” — and suspicions of ballot fraud involving residents of a homeless shelter raised questions for some about whether Cianci changed his habits.
“One of the main reasons I’m here is that I don’t want to see Buddy Cianci elected,” said Amy Glidden, a Rhode Island resident, after voting at the Boys and Girls Club on Wickenden Street. “I just really don’t trust him.”
“There was a huge contingency that was trying to keep him out of the office,” said Providence resident Marilyn McLaughlin at Cianci’s results watch party at the Hilton Providence.
But despite his controversial record, many residents of Providence fondly remember Cianci’s time as mayor and supported his campaign in the hopes that he would be able to reinvigorate the city.
“Cianci is not using this job to pad his resume, and that seems to be what everyone else is doing it for. He just loves Providence and wants to be its mayor,” said Scott Waldinger, who voted in Salomon Center on Brown’s campus. Another Cianci supporter who voted in Salomon, Bob Troiano, from the East Side of Providence, said he voted for Cianci in part because “I’m very dissatisfied with the level of corruption of city politicians.”
Cianci thanked his supporters and his family extensively during his concession speech.
Among voters who spoke to Herald reporters, most suggested they had voted for Elorza — or even Harrop — to prevent Cianci from holding the office for a third time. “Honestly, there weren’t great other choices,” said Twee Sim, who voted for Harrop. “A little bit of freshness in Rhode Island is necessary at this point.”
“I’ve had enough of Cianci,” said Keefer Don, a longtime Providence resident.
“I registered to vote in Rhode Island because I think it’s really important that Buddy Cianci doesn’t get elected,” said Erika Pearson, who recently moved to Providence from Minnesota.
But while some may have felt it was important to vote to prevent Cianci from being elected, others expressed genuine support for Elorza and his campaign promises.
“I think he’s a fresh new face with some good ideas about reforming the city,” said Beth Marootin, a Rhode Island resident.
“I see Jorge Elorza as kind of carrying on the tradition of Angel” Taveras, Glidden said.
Providence’s newly elected mayor is a Rhode Island native, raised in Providence’s West End by Guatemalan immigrants.
Elorza ultimately graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003, after initially being turned away by every college he applied to in high school. He has noted that his humble origins have influenced him greatly, and continue to inspire him to focus on improving public education to ensure that children have the opportunity to succeed. He has also cited the importance of taking advantage of graduates of Providence’s institutions of higher education.
Elorza has also said he would like to take advantage of the city’s port and deep water channels, which he said could be used to create local, middle-class jobs for the city.
- With additional reporting by Camilla Brandfield-Harvey, Duncan Gallagher, Lindsay Gantz, Matthew Jarrell and Maxine Joselow
Updated Nov. 5 at 2:45 a.m.