Providence, R.I., regroups after city's mayor resigns over felony conviction

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The administration of Mayor Vincent A. Cianci of Providence, R.I., leader of one of the nation's most controversy-beset city governments, has come to an inglorious end.

Mr. Cianci, forced from office as a convicted felon following his sentencing Monday for assault charges, stepped down Wednesday, leaving the city's leadership shrouded in uncertainty.

A special election to fill the $58,850-a-year post will be held July 17. Until then, City Council President Joseph R. Paolino Jr. will sit in the mayoral chair.

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Cianci's departure comes at a time when Providence's city government has has been the focal point of a series of federal, state, and city-police probes of alleged corruption involving various municipal agencies.

The latest investigation involves a break-in last weekend at the city archives, where payroll and other records are stored. So far, police say they have not determined if anything was taken.

The city Public Works Department is also under investigation for cheating in handling contracts for street paving.

Yesterday, several Cianci aides were preparing to offer their resignations. The exodus began Tuesday when Sanford H. Gorodetsky, the public safety commissioner, stepped out. This came 24 hours after he tried unsuccessfully to fire city Police Chief Anthony Mancuso.

Former Mayor Cianci, a political maverick whose stormy reign made headlines outside of Rhode Island, had in recent months been the target of a citizens' move to recall him. The petition drive, however, fell short of the 13,249 signatures required to place the question on a citywide ballot.

That move came in the wake of Cianci's indictment on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and simple assault in connection with a March 1983 attack. Cianci is reported to have assaulted a former friend whom the ex-mayor suspected of having an affair with his wife. She and Cianci were then separated and are now divorced.

Under the Providence charter, an elected official sentenced for a felony becomes disqualified from holding his post. Cianci, who pleaded ''no contest'' on April 4, was given a five-year suspended prison sentence and placed on probation for five years by Superior Court Judge John P. Boucher.

If the judge had prescribed only probation, or if he had deferred the penalty instead of suspending it, Cianci could have remained in office.

At press time, the City Council was preparing formally to vacate the mayoral chair and provide for the special election, clearing the way for what could be a lively race. There is some speculation that Cianci may try for a comeback, although there is some question as to his eligibility, given the city charter provision that ended his nearly 10-year tenure.

A former Rhode Island assistant attorney general and the 1980 Republican nominee for governor, Cianci won the city reins in heavily Democratic Providence in a 1974 political upset over incumbent Democratic Mayor Joseph Doorley Jr. It was the first time in 38 years and the second time since 1912 that a Republican had won Providence's top office.

Two years ago, when jilted by Republican leaders in favor of another candidate, Mayor Cianci bolted the party and ran for reelection as an independent. He won by a narrow 1,074-vote margin.

That victory was overshadowed by charges of election fraud involving several hundred residents from outside the city who, through loosely defined election laws, were able to cast ballots.

The Cianci regime was marked by several battles with the City Council, most notably a 1981 political tug of war when the city was tottering on the brink of bankruptcy. The mayor won approval of a proposal to increase property taxes and borrow funds to keep Providence afloat, but, in exchange, he was forced to surrender some of his powers over municipal spending.

Besides interim Mayor Paolino, several prominent Providence Democrats and at least one Republican are said to be considering a run for the executive chair in July. A minimum of 500 voter signatures are required on candidate nomination papers. The date for the Democratic and Repbulican mayoral primaries, to be decided later this week, will be either June 5 or June 12.

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