Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr., a tireless promoter of his city, was happy to make a cameo appearance on the sentimental NBC drama "Providence."

But HBO made him an offer he could refuse.

The mayor of the city once known as New England's mob headquarters rejected an invitation to participate in a local screening of the season premiere of HBO's mobster series "The Sopranos."

He suggested that the show makes Italian Americans look bad.

The cable network wanted to buy jars of the Mayor's Own Marinara Sauce, which Cianci sells for charity, and give them away at the event.

"To offer my marinara for sale to 'The Sopranos' would be too high a price to pay, even while adding to my scholarship fund for our Providence students," Cianci, who appeared in a first-season episode of "Providence," wrote to HBO.

"To accept would be to compromise the pride I have for my heritage, my ethnic background and my strong beliefs that bias against any individual or group is morally wrong."

Henry Gomez, HBO corporate affairs vice president, wrote back to say he was disappointed by Cianci's response. The series's stars--including James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco--would never "lend their talents to a program that disparaged their Italian heritage," Gomez wrote.

Still, Gomez said, out of courtesy to Cianci, HBO canceled the Providence premiere, set for mid-January. Screenings in about two dozen other cities are proceeding as planned.

The New England mob had a strong presence in Rhode Island during its 1970s heyday. Some brick walls still bear bullet holes from gangland slayings. But the mob has been greatly weakened over the years, reduced to small-time operations such as theft rings, authorities say.

CAPTION: James Gandolfini stars as Tony Soprano in the HBO mob series.