By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vincent "Buddy" Cianci served two terms as mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, before he did a stint in prison for racketeering. Now, he wants another shot at leading the corruption-stained city, where he remains loved by enough residents to put him on the ballot.
Voters will pick a Democratic candidate for mayor in primary elections on Tuesday. The winner will face Cianci, who is running as an independent in November's general election.
Despite his convictions, including a no-contest plea in 1984 for trying to extinguish a cigarette on a romantic rival's eye, Cianci is still a popular figure. Notorious nationally for his corruption conviction, he's remembered locally as a bona fide civic leader who helped re-invigorate a depressed, once mob-dominated city.
"The city has undergone a stunning revival, and he was a major contributor to that transition," said Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. "They weren't his ideas, but he made them happen. He had the drive and chutzpah to push things through."
Cianci led the city, which has a population of 178,000, from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 to 2002. He was acquitted of more than a dozen charges but convicted of one count of conspiracy, for overseeing a city government in which officials solicited bribes and engaged in extortion and mail fraud. For that, he served nearly five years in prison.
"There's a core of people that are furious that he's back in the game," Moakley said. "They're offended and insulted."
Now 73, Cianci, who hosts a radio talk show, says voters should trust him because he is "dying to get back to work."
"I think people understand that I've always proclaimed my innocence. In America... you pay the price and I did that," he said in a phone interview. "I did a good job when I was mayor."
His campaign will focus on jobs, economic development, schools and the middle class.
"It's a city I love. I think we've lost our way," he said. "It's time to rebuild our greatness."
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)