East Side Delivers the City for Elorza

Buddy Cianci failed to secure enough East Side votes


There is a definite symmetry to the East Side’s role in the rise and now apparent demise of Buddy Cianci’s political career. When the then 32-year-old prosecutor first ran for Mayor of Providence in 1974, he was elected as an anti-corruption candidate in large part thanks to support from the East Side. Now 40 years later, by voting almost three to one for his opponent, it is the same East Side that has effectively ended the political career of arguably the most colorful as well as most controversial politician the city has ever seen. In the end, Jorge Elorza won by 5,400 votes here on the East Side (Wards 1, 2 and 3) which more than erased the 1,500 vote lead the ex-Mayor had won from the rest of the city. The conventional wisdom was that Buddy needed at least 35% of the vote on the East Side to win. His people actually thought they could do it with 30%. He got 24%. Game. Set. Match.

As it turned out, even 30% on the East Side wouldn’t have been enough. A lower turn out and the effect of the master level shrunk the size of projected Cianci vote totals on the other side of the city. The Elorza campaign put its dollars and emphasis on getting out the vote, wisely as it turned out, and proved to be competitive in most of the wards, except 4 and 14 in the North End where Cianci garnered almost two-thirds of the voters. But perhaps the biggest surprise occurred here in Ward 3 (Mt. Hope and a section of the East Side east of Hope).

Going into September, except for the Mayoral primary race, most East Side attention was on two spirited three way races: the gubernatorial contest and the battle for Gordon Fox’s seat. Interest in the city races was almost nil since two of the three East Side councilmen – Sam Zurier in Ward 2 and Kevin Jackson in Ward 3 – had no opponents. That is, until about four weeks before the general election.

Marcus Mitchell, a businessman and community activist who helped organize and lead the Providence Community Library, suddenly announced for the City Council spot in Ward 3 as a write-in candidate. Traditionally in Rhode Island, a declaration of this type is akin to tilting at windmills. After all, Jackson had represented the area for 20 years and is in line to perhaps be the majority leader of the City Council in January. “When he announced he’d be the co-campaign director for Buddy Cianci, that was the final straw,” recalls Karina Wood, who was the co-director of the write-in initiative. “He hasn’t filed a campaign finance report as required by law and has been fined $30,000 for it. In addition, some constituents feel he has been less than accessible.” Joining Wood in leading this effort was Mitchell’s father-in-law Danny Lopes, a former City Councilman of the area himself. Certainly the “Anyone But Buddy” people were there as well.

The results were astounding and clearly contributed to the Buddy’s poor showing in the Ward. Before the write-in effort, it had widely been assumed that Jackson would be able to keep the Cianci numbers competitive. When the votes were tallied, Mitchell out-polled the Councilman in the machine count 1,829 to 1,807. The absentee bal- lots, however, will be enough to return Jackson to the Council.

“Yes, I was surprised,” admits Jackson. “The new Ward district now encompasses
more of traditional East Side compared to the Mt. Hope area, which I feel I have served well. I certainly will try to be responsive to the needs of all my constituents in the future.” The in- tensity of the campaign resulted in Ward 3 produc- ing almost 4,000 voters, the biggest ward turn out in the city. And almost 80% of the voters came out in support of Elorza.

The rest of the East Side votes came in as predicted, big pluralities for Gina Raimondo and the rest of the Demo- cratic slate. And while East Side resident and Republican Lt. Governor candidate Catherine Taylor did do better on her home turf, she was no match for the statewide Democratic surge, which produced easy victories for all their statewide candidates.

There were also two other contested East Side races but neither proved to be competitive. Newcomer Aaron Regunberg, having won his three-person primary for the Representative seat in the fourth district in the primary, bested Independent candidate Ethan Gyles with 83% of the vote. And in Fox Point, Seth Yurdin won over first time Republican candidate Michael Long, winning 78% of the vote.

So while the rest of the country is awash with triumphant Republicans basking in their mid-year election success, Rhode Island, Providence and in particular our little corner of the city, marches to the beat of our very different drummers. Maybe that explains why President Obama visited the East Side and Gregg’s just before the election. These days, he’s willing to seek out a little love wherever he can find it.