Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, a two-time felon who ran the biggest city in the smallest U.S. state for more than two decades, on Tuesday lost his bid to serve as mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, for a third time.
Democrat Jorge Elorza, 37, a former housing court judge and political newcomer, defeated 73-year-old Cianci by 53 percent to 44 percent with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Republican Daniel Harrop came in third with 3 percent of votes. Mayor Angel Taveras did not seek re-election.
Cianci, who ran as an independent, had not previously been defeated in a mayoral election.
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"If you win you have to win with grace, and if you lose you have to lose with grace," Cianci told his supporters, pledging to help Elorza.
Shocking the state's political establishment earlier this year when he got into the race, Cianci mounted an energetic campaign with promises of new jobs, safer streets, and restored self-confidence for the capital city's 178,000 residents.
The race was widely viewed as a referendum on Cianci after he served 4-1/2 years in prison for running City Hall as a criminal enterprise.
His supporters longed for a return to Cianci's glory days. He served as mayor from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 to 2002, when he ushered in the city's renaissance, building a downtown shopping mall and moving a river. His detractors feared a return to backroom deals and a culture of having to "know a guy" to get things done.
"I could not in good conscience voted for Cianci even though I voted for him when he first ran," said Edie Warren, a lawyer, adding: "Elorza is inexperienced but he's smart and will surround himself with good people and he is not an egomaniac the way Buddy is."
The race drew national attention with President Barack Obama taking the unusual step of wading into municipal politics by endorsing Elorza, who like Obama earned a law degree from Harvard.
Elorza "will bring honest leadership to Providence and fight to grow the local economy, improve public safety, expand affordable education and create a transparent and friendly business climate," Obama said in a written statement.
Three former U.S. attorneys, including current U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, took the unusual step of urging voters to reject Cianci, fearing what they called a return to a "pay to play" business model.
Even Harrop, who tirelessly pointed to Cianci's criminal past by underscoring that more than a dozen of his former top deputies also went to jail, gave a $1,000 campaign contribution to Elorza and ended up voting for him.