By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, whose two stints as mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, each ended abruptly due to felony convictions, died on Thursday at age 74 after a brief hospitalization.
Cianci, the longest serving mayor of Rhode Island's capital city, ran Providence for 22 years in all, from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 to 2002.
He attempted another comeback in 2014, unsuccessfully running as an independent for mayor seven years after he completed a 4-1/2 prison term for racketeering.
Despite his convictions, Cianci remained popular with many residents. Supporters credited him with improving an economically depressed, once mob-dominated city during his six terms.
The prospect in 2014 of another Cianci administration, however, was so abhorrent to the political establishment that even the Republican mayoral candidate donated money to his Democratic opponent and ended up voting for him against Cianci.
In 1984, Cianci was forced to resign after pleading no contest to assaulting a man he accused of having a relationship with his estranged wife.
In 2001, federal authorities charged Cianci with corruption in an investigation dubbed "Operation Plunder Dome." Cianci, who maintained his innocence, was accused of overseeing a City Hall in which officials solicited bribes and engaged in extortion.
His political saga made him a national figure. Journalist Mike Stanton chronicled the story in the book "The Prince of Providence."
Cianci eventually wrote an autobiography, "Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Advised a President, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale." He also started his own line of pasta sauce.
Elorza, the mayor of Providence who defeated Cianci in 2014, ordered flags to fly at half-mast.
"Mayor Cianci's love for the City of Providence is undeniable and his mark on the city will not be forgotten," he said in a statement.
Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee praised Cianci for overseeing Providence's renaissance, while Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called him a "giant on the Rhode Island political landscape."
Cianci hosted a talk show on radio station WPRO in Rhode Island, which reported his death on air on Thursday morning. Cianci was taken to a hospital on Wednesday night after falling ill while filming his weekly television show, "On the Record with Buddy Cianci," for ABC6 in Providence, the station said on its website.
Cianci had battled cancer prior to the 2014 election.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and David Gregorio)