Mayor Traficante Won't Seek Reelection
''I don't want to be one of those players that stays one season too long,'' says Michael A. Traficante, Cranston's longest-serving mayor.
RICHARD SALIT Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
CRANSTON --- Michael A. Traficante, the former teacher and football coach whose popularity helped him survive political scandals and become Cranston's longest-serving mayor, announced yesterday that he won't seek reelection.
The 59-year-old Republican, during an emotional banquet attended by 240 supporters and political associates, declared that his 14th year as mayor will be his last. At the end of next year, he will come to the end of more than three decades in public service in Cranston, including his years as a teacher, school administrator and City Council member.
"I've been involved in athletics all my life," Traficante said after the by-invitation-only breakfast at the West Valley Inn, in West Warwick. "I don't want to be one of those players that stays one season too long. I want to be able to walk out that door with my head held high, and with a number of accomplishments behind me."
Traficante, however, said he plans to remain active in politics, including working to support the Republican candidate for his job. And he wouldn't rule out a future run for governor or other state office, saying "I haven't thought about any particular office. But I haven't ruled any possibilities out." He said he would also consider a career that would combine his interests in education and public service.
TRAFICANTE WON reelection in 1994 despite pleading guilty to nine misdemeanors stemming from accusations that he and his wife had accumulated $115,000 in undisclosed cash campaign donations. The year before, two top Cranston officials and two city contractors were convicted as a result of a state probe into kickbacks and bribery involving city contracts.
Less than one month ago, two more city officials were indicted – accused of accepting kickbacks in return for securing computer contracts for a company owned by a former purchasing agent for the city.
But Traficante and his supporters yesterday focused on the good the mayor has done for the city: building a nationally recognized senior center, expanding the city's recreational sites, establishing neighborhood Crime Watch groups, building a new elementary school and a new gymnasium at Cranston High School East and providing a $6-million surplus for the city through the recent privatization of the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Traficante said he decided not to run again despite polls that had indicated strong support for the mayor. Scandals, old or new, did not affect his decision, he said.
At the end of his lengthy speech yesterday, Traficante choked up when he got to the part about not running again. Even though many in the audience had already learned of his decision, a hush fell over the crowd and tears came to the eyes of some.
"That sums up Traf," Senior Services Director Susette Rabinowitz said, using the mayor's nickname in describing his interest in providing community services and the reaction he got from the large crowd yesterday. "He's a people person."
TRAFICANTE'S DECISION is good news for Democrats who, despite enjoying a base of registered voters twice as large as the Republicans, haven't been able to capture the mayor's seat in about 40 years. Since Traficante lacks an heir apparent, political insiders are predicting that the 1998 election will be a wide-open contest that could result in primaries for both parties.
Democrats reached yesterday reiterated their longstanding criticisms of Traficante, but said that he was too personable and kind not to like.
"As a person, I don't think you could be nicer than Mayor Traficante. I liked him and I still do," said Joseph Maraia, a former chairman of the Democratic City Committee, who said he will decide whether to run for mayor in the coming months.
"I just don't believe he was a good administrator," he said. "When you hang around with dogs you get fleas. Unfortunately, the mayor, with the people he had, he basically ended up gathering fleas."
Democratic City Council President Peter Pastore, who said his own announcement on whether to run for mayor will come in January, acknowledged that Traficante has "done a lot of good things for the city."
But he said that it took a Democratic charge, led by him, to get the city to order a forensic audit of its books in 1993 and to reform the financial practices that contributed to the scandals that have rocked City Hall.
"The mayor clearly built, over his tenure, a very strong empire," Pastore said. "He was able to generate substantial sums of money, not only to get himself elected but to help maintain a majority on the City Council for 10 of his 14 years in office. With all the tragedies that took place in this city over the past four or five years, it ended up putting some chinks in his armor," said Pastore.
But, he added, "I think he was always well-intentioned."
TRAFICANTE, WHO was a standout wrestler and football player in his school days in Cranston, returned to Cranston High School East as a math teacher in 1964, after serving in the Army. He coached the football and wrestling teams until 1975, when, taking advantage of his master's degree in school administration, he became the school's vice principal.
Traficante served on the City Council from 1979 until 1985, spending his last four years as president. When then-mayor Edward D. DiPrete became governor, Traficante became the acting mayor. Later that year, he won the first of four campaigns for mayor.
(The city now limits the mayor to two terms in office, making it difficult for anyone in the future to rival the former fullback's political run in Cranston.)
During his 1994 campaign, with his guilty pleas fresh on voters' minds, Traficante vowed that he would not run again in 1998. The voters, he likes to say, "gave him a second chance" and returned him to office.
But Traficante began to reconsider that pledge after a landslide Democratic victory in 1996 that swept all but one Republican off the council and which brought down the mayor's heir apparent, Frank Mastrati Jr. Traficante, on election eve, announced that he might run again for fear that the Democrats might just waltz into his office.
Over the summer, he conducted a poll to gauge where the Republican Party, including himself, stood with voters.
"I truly thought the poll would have made my decision somewhat easier," Traficante said. "But it didn't. It came out very encouraging: it indicated I would have been a strong candidate for reelection."
"But," he told the crowd yesterday, "in my entire public career, polls were never the sole source of my decision making. Oftentimes, you must let your heart, your feelings and your mind lead the way."
The $1,130 breakfast was paid for out of the $30,000 remaining in Traficante's campaign fund. When the mayor concluded his remarks, supporters who lined up in front of the lectern received a firm shake from the affable mayor's large hands or a bearlike embrace from the hefty former football star. Several expressed disappointment that he was not running, but said they understood his reasoning.
Robert Murray, long active in Republican politics and a confidante of the mayor's, said that Traficante's decision was "a very personal one."
"He has accomplished a great deal," Murray said. "He will leave office in 1998 as one of the great mayors in the history of the city."
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THE TRAFICANTE YEARS
Cranston Mayor Michael A. Traficante has spent 34 years as a teacher, school administrator, City Council member and mayor. The following are some of the notable moments in his public service, including political scandals that have tainted his administration.
1978: Traficante elected to Cranston City Council.
1985: Mayor Edward D. DiPrete wins governor's race, making Traficante acting mayor. He then wins an election to finish DiPrete's term, the first of four mayoral races he will win.
1992: Atty. Gen. James E. O'Neil's investigation into state hiring practices under DiPrete spreads to Cranston and results in the arrests of two city officials and two city contractors implicated in a bribery and kickback scheme. They include Recreation Director John S. Soscia, Public Works Director Raymond Azar and contractors William DiRaimo and Michael W. Piccoli.
1992: Piccoli and DiRaimo plead guilty. They each pay $50,000 in restitution and are ordered to serve work release sentences at the ACI.
1993: Azar pleads guilty; he is sentenced to five years of work-release and ordered to pay $225,000 in restitution. Soscia pleads no contest, and is given a 2 1/2 -year home confinement sentence. He is fined $5,000 and pays $44,000 in restitution to the city.
1993: The Democratic-controlled City Council receives a report from a forensic audit that uncovers a "significant pattern" of contract and purchasing abuses in Traficante's administration. The audit becomes the basis for a civil suit brought by the city against people named in the audit that is still pending and that so far has netted the city about $500,000 in restititution.
1994: Traficante is sentenced to one year's probation and fined $2,000, after he pleads guilty to nine misdemeanor counts of filing false information with the former State Conflict of Interest Commission and the State Ethics Commission.
1997: Kathleen A. DeLuca, acting city finance director, and her husband, Raymond DeLuca, director of management information systems, are each indicted on bribery and racketeering charges for allegedly accepting $188,771 in kickbacks from former city purchasing agent John A. Calcagni, who is also indicted.
1997: Traficante announces that he will not seek reelection.* * *