He is a felon, his restaurants are in financial trouble, he is behind on his taxes and he wants to be mayor again -- and he could win. Vincent "Buddy" Cianci was forced to resign as mayor of Providence, R.I., in 1984 after 10 years in office when he pleaded no contest to assaulting his estranged wife's alleged lover. In Rhode Island, such a plea is equivalent to a conviction.

When he was mayor, 30 people associated with his administration were indicted, 22 convicted and 17 went to jail.

But Cianci, an independent, is in a dead-heat race with Democrat Andrew Annaldo, a businessman and city council member, and Republican Frederick Lippitt, a former state representative. The current mayor, Joseph Paolino Jr., made an unsuccessful bid for governor in the Democratic primary.

In the late days of the campaign, personal attacks have begun to replace issues such as improving the city's 42 percent school dropout rate, revitalizing neighborhoods and fighting crime.

At a debate last week, Annaldo complained about a Lippitt commercial that compared him to an old watchdog. Lippitt said Annaldo should have better scrutinized city spending when he was with the Providence Board of Contract and Supply.

Cianci, who has been campaigning on a theme that he "never stopped caring about Providence," accused both opponents of dipping into special pensions at taxpayers' expense. "I'm getting caught in the crossfire here from the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper," Cianci said.

It was revealed the next day that Cianci created a secret pension fund of his own while he was mayor.