The Abrupt Shift in the Providence Mayoral Race Coverage

RIPR’s Scott MacKay beat me to the punch, but I’d like to add my thoughts on the subject of the Cianstoration.

A funny thing happened on Wednesday mid-afternoon. Suddenly, it became 2002 again. Reading the coverage of Buddy Cianci entering the mayoral field it seems the media has inaugurated him the incumbent.

This WPRI story? The URL slug would suggest its headline was “here’s who’s running for Providence mayor,” and it was published minutes before Cianci’s announcement. But the headline (which I first saw just after Buddy filed) is “Here’s who’s running against Buddy Cianci” as though knocking out Cianci is the primary motivation here (elsewhere on WPRI, the story is linked to as “Buddy’s opponents”).

You can find similar approaches in The Providence Journal and at RIPR, with Buddy dominating the coverage, often with a level detail usually reserved for recently deceased politicians; not one attempting to revive their political careers.

Buddy surely must be appreciative. With little effort — and no hard evidence of it — he’s suddenly be vaunted into frontrunner status. Even negative stories like this one from WPRI don’t really harm him. It’s good for Buddy if the race for mayor becomes a referendum on his time as mayor; the youngest possible voter in this election would’ve been six when Buddy was sent to jail — old enough to remember when he was mayor. Nostalgia is a powerful factor.

Unfortunately, at least one Democratic mayoral candidate is playing into Buddy’s hands: Brett Smiley. Smiley appears to be making the calculation that being seen as the anti-Buddy is the right way to win the Democratic nomination. And while it makes some strategic sense, I think it not only sets a bad precedent, it’s turning Buddy into the main attraction. The sequence of events Buddy wants is a Democratic primary about him, a general election about him ending with his fifth (?) inauguration.

That’s not how Democrats need this primary to play out. The Big Show needs to be the Democratic primary. Buddy Cianci should be as irrelevant to the Democratic primary as Lorne Adrain, Dan Harrop, and whoever the new independent is (EDIT: Jeffrey Lemire). Nothing has fundamentally changed in terms of the Democratic primary. There are still only three major candidates; Solomon, Elorza, and Smiley (though we do need to find out who Catone and Gregoire are — the less said about Young the better).

The Democrats do need to up the charisma factor if they do plan on debating Cianci though. A “X-point development plan” is definitely helpful to have and may appeal to wonks, but just the phrase bores me to death. You only need to watch Cianci’s DePasquale Square speech (via WPRI’s Dan McGowan) to realize how effective a speaker he remains. I’m with the Current-Anchor’s Andrew Morse on this one, there’s definitely a charisma gap between Cianci and the rest of the field.

To wrap it all up, I think a Democrat is going to win this though. The Democratic nominee has taken home over 80% of the general election vote in the past 12 years with about 6000 votes reliably going to the non-Democrat. Those 6000 votes are likely to be split up between Harrop, Lemire and Adrain, and Cianci.  Cianci will take a portion of the Democratic vote, but I think a lot his base no longer lives in the city while there’s fresh blood in the city that only knows him as the Great Crook. Furthermore, both the importance of his felony conviction and the length of time since that conviction is longer than his comeback campaign in 1990. It may be a narrow win with a plurality, but barring serious incompentence, I think Providence will still have a Democratic mayor come January.

Cianci is a man out of time. We just have to wait until November to show him.

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