- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci’s criminal past continued to haunt him on Wednesday during his first joint appearance with the other two candidates running to be next mayor of the city.

Democrat Jorge Elorza and Republican Dan Harrop, speaking in a candidates’ forum that frequently devolved into shouting and interrupting, both repeatedly brought up the corruption that ran rampant in Cianci’s past administrations.

Elorza, a law professor and former judge, put it bluntly in his opening statement at the wealthy retirement community Laurelmead.

“I think it’s an embarrassment that Mr. Cianci is running for mayor of Providence once again,” Elorza told the crowd.

Cianci replied that he has always proclaimed his innocence, never took a dime himself and couldn’t control all the city workers he oversaw during the 22 years he was mayor. Cianci was convicted in 2002 of racketeering conspiracy for overseeing widespread corruption at City Hall. He spent four and a half years in federal prison.

Cianci said over and over that he has paid the price and rebuilt his life. He said he did a lot of good in the city - increasing development, encouraging historic preservation and giving residents a sense of pride in where they live. He tried to focus on leadership, and what he says he can get done if given another chance.

“It’s about the future. It’s not about the past,” he said. “We don’t need a professor. We need a leader.”

But Elorza and Harrop kept bringing up the failings of the past. Both attacked Cianci for his oversight of the city’s pension system, saying he had not sufficiently funded it and agreed to cost-of-living increases of up to 6 percent Cianci said he tried to fight the increases, but signed them thinking they would have a limited effect.

When Elorza asked Cianci if he took responsibility and showed remorse for “all the awful things you did here in the city,” Cianci replied by asking whether Elorza apologized for being arrested for shoplifting when he was 18. Elorza has apologized for it and called it a mistake. Harrop called Cianci’s comparison “ludicrous.”

Cianci also asked Elorza why, if he thinks Cianci is such a bad guy, Elorza asked Cianci in the spring to support his bid for mayor and offer his counsel if Elorza was elected.

“I wanted you to do all of us a favor and not run, Buddy,” Elorza replied. “I wanted to force you out of the race.”

Harrop quoted from Cianci’s memoir: “The first thing a mayor should do when he takes office is raise taxes and blame the prior administration,” Cianci wrote.

“We know exactly what Mr. Cianci is going to do if he becomes mayor,” Harrop said.

Harrop also went after Cianci for his more recent record. He asked how Cianci can say he has changed when his “Mayor’s Own” marinara sauce, purportedly sold for charity, has given no money to charity in recent years. Cianci replied that the charity has helped hundreds of children go to college.

“How much have you done for the kids of the city of Providence in the past 15 or 20 years? Have you given them 300 grand to go to college? I don’t think you have,” Cianci said. “I resent the fact that you take a critical view of the scholarship fund that I work very hard on.”

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