- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The three candidates for mayor went after each other in their first televised debate on Tuesday, with the Republican saying former Mayor Buddy Cianci, a twice-convicted felon running for his old job as an independent, had a half-century history of thuggish, criminal behavior.

The debate Tuesday evening pitted Cianci, who’s seeking a seventh term, against Democrat Jorge Elorza, a law professor and former judge, and Republican Dan Harrop, a psychiatrist. While the candidates talked about their visions for the city, Elorza and Harrop kept coming back to Cianci: his criminal history and the decisions he made during 21 years as mayor that his opponents say dug the city a financial hole it is still struggling to get out of.

Cianci was forced from office twice, first in 1984 for assaulting a man, then, after a comeback to the office in 1990, for presiding over widespread corruption at City Hall. He went to prison in 2002.

When asked about that history, Cianci said he had made mistakes and was sorry. But he said he would not apologize for the work done during his last administration.

“I’m humbled by it. I’ve changed my attitude in many ways,” Cianci said, adding, “I’m the most experienced candidate here.”

Elorza tried to remind viewers of the consequences of Cianci’s leadership, such as a scandal-plagued police department and overly generous pension promises the city did not fully fund.

“We have a retiree who’s collecting a $17,000 paycheck a month tax-free. How many families in Providence don’t make that much a year?” Elorza asked. “We have to look at the bad financial decisions that were made during Mr. Cianci’s leadership as a start.”

On the police department, Cianci acknowledged there were problems but said it did a great job. Cianci was endorsed last week by the police union.

When discussing a recent poll that showed Cianci with a slight lead in the race and a large number of undecideds, Harrop said he believed it was because voters don’t know enough about the candidates.

“I think as the young people discover that Mr. Cianci has a half-century history of recurrent thuggish, criminal behavior, those numbers will change,” Harrop said.

The mayor’s office is open because Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Harrop is running on a platform of putting the city into receivership to try to fix its financial problems and rid it of some of its pension obligations. Cianci and Elorza do not support that idea.

Cianci also took swipes at his opponents, accusing Elorza of being supported by people behind strip clubs and a waterfront scrap heap, prompting Elorza to reply: “You can’t just make things up, Buddy.”

Cianci closed out the debate, which was sponsored by WPRI-TV and The Providence Journal, by looking forward, telling viewers he represents “new policies and a new vision.”

“I can do it again,” he said. “I know Providence’s best days are still ahead.”

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