Previewing the Providence mayoral debate

Providence mayor candidates Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Jorge Elorza and Daniel Harrop.
Providence mayor candidates Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Jorge Elorza and Daniel Harrop.

The three candidates for Providence mayor will meet Tuesday night in a high-stakes, televised debate.

If their recent meeting at a senior community is any indication, the audience is in for a lively mix of attacks, counter-attacks and one-liners -- with perhaps a few ideas for the future thrown in.

(The debate will be broadcast live on Fox Providence and streamed at wpri.com.)

The three-way race is between former Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr., running as an independent, Democrat Jorge Elorza and Republican Daniel Harrop.

The race has attracted national attention because of Cianci’s long and colorful record. He was Providence’s mayor for two stints, covering more than 20 years, beginning in 1974, when he became the first Italian-American to hold the seat.

Cianci was forced from office twice by felony convictions. The first time was in 1984, after he pleaded no contest to assault after using a fireplace log and a lit cigarette on a man he believed was having a relationship with his ex-wife.

The second time was in 2002, when he was indicted on 27 charges of bribery, extortion and mail fraud. He was convicted of just one -- racketeering conspiracy -- but that was enough to send him to federal prison for nearly five years.

After each conviction, Cianci spent several years as a popular, often caustic, radio talk-show host. He announced his latest candidacy in June on his talk-radio show.

Elorza, son of Guatemalan immigrants, is a Harvard-trained lawyer and law professor who served as a Housing Court judge before announcing his candidacy.

Harrop, a psychiatrist, is making his third run for mayor.

Cianci’s entry into the race delighted his core of long-time supporters, who say he’s learned from his mistakes and is the most qualified candidate to solve the city’s perennial financial problems and curb crime, especially following  a recent spurt of shootings and stabbings.

But long-time critics were appalled that Cianci entered the race, saying the city would be a national laughing stock if a "twice-convicted felon" -- a phrase that finds its way into every news story and editorial -- regains the mayor’s seat. And they warn of a return to the corruption that pervaded Cianci’s years in office.

The most recent public poll, conducted by The Providence Journal and WPRI-12 TV, found that Cianci led the field with 38.0 percent of those responding, followed by Elorza, at 32.4, and Harrop, at 5.8.

The poll also found that nearly 64 percent said that Cianci’s criminal record was "very" or "somewhat" important to them in deciding for whom to vote.

PolitiFact Rhode Island has published five fact-checks on claims Cianci has made, including three since he declared his candidacy.

We issued False rulings on his claim that the Providence pension system was 100-percent funded in his last two years in office, and on his assertion that Elorza "wants to impose a municipal income tax."

We ruled Half True on his claim that the city had a $7-million surplus when he left office, but six years later faced a $110-million deficit.

Elorza has faced the Truth-o-Meter once so far, earning a False ruling for his 2011 claim -- long before he became a candidate for mayor -- that Rhode Island has "roughly 15,000 undocumented immigrants." (We will publish a second ruling on an Elorza claim this week.)

And we’ve checked one of Harrop’s claims to date, ruling Mostly True on his December statement that the city’s pension fund needed $1.2 billion to be properly funded, but had only "a quarter-billion dollars."