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America's Worst Mayor Finally Lost—Because Democrats and Republicans Teamed Up Against Him

Darren McCollester / Getty Images

In 1974, Buddy Cianci, an anti-corruption crusading Republican, was elected mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. Nine years later, in 1983, he was indicted for a littany of offenses including attempted extortion, kidnapping, and assault after beating up a man he suspected of being involved with his estranged wife. He stepped down, only to be re-elected by a few hundred votes in 1990. He oversaw the renaissance of Providence during the 1990s, attending countless ribbon-cuttings and grand openings. But again, in 2002, he was removed from office. This time, he was found guilty of racketeering due to his involvement in City Hall’s widespread corruption, and the conviction came with a federal prison sentence. Earlier this year, after surviving prison and a battle with cancer, the perennial mayor was on the ballot again, this time as an Independent candidate.

This time, Providence was determined not to repeat its past mistakes. As polls throughout the summer showed Cianci in the lead, city politicians panicked at the prospect of the felon regaining his old office. In July, Independent candidate Lorne Adrain dropped out of the race in order to make a Cianci comeback more difficult. (With fewer candidates, the winner would have to claim a larger slice of voters; Cianci's opponents bet on the idea that it would be tricky for the polarizing former mayor to build support beyond his core devotees.) And in September, just before the Democratic primary, candidate Brett Smiley announced he was dropping out as well in order to back Democrat Jorge Elorza—the Democratic candidate that Smiley said was most likely to beat Cianci in the general election. After the primary, with just Republican Dan Harrop, Elorza, and Cianci left in the race, Cianci still looked like he could win. So, in October, in a move that all but sabotaged his own chances, Harrop donated $1,000 to Elorza’s campaign. Then, this Monday, weeks after the deadline to drop his name from the ballothe announced he would vote for Elorza, saying, “I need to do all I can to stop Mr. Cianci.”