​A political rogue returns to the campaign trail

Say the name "Buddy" in one New England city, and every voter will know without a doubt which candidate you're talking about. Mo Rocca has joined him on the campaign trail:

At the Venda Ravioli in Providence, R.I., Buddy Cianci isn't just selling pasta sauce today; he's selling himself as Mayor of Providence -- again.

Cianci's good at running for mayor; he's been elected six times before.

And what is his recipe for a revitalized Providence? "Oh, leadership, vision and experience," he said. "It's simple!"

"Demographics of the city have really changed since you were last mayor," Rocca said.

"Sure they have -- but not the ingredients in the sauce here!"

Correspondent Mo Rocca with Buddy Cianci. CBS News

But at 73, this isn't the same Buddy that left office in 2002. For starters, there's something missing.

He got rid of the toupee. "Well, you know, I didn't feel a need for it anymore," he laughed. "There was no need to wear it anymore. What you see is what you get. And by the way, a lot of people say I look a lot better without that squirrel on my head, you know?"

"You did call it a squirrel, right?"

"Yeah, I did. I named it. It was my pet. I named it 'the Squirrel.'"

But the baggage Buddy Cianci carries from his 21 years in the mayor's office may be a little harder to lose.

Buddy Cianci was first elected Mayor of Providence in 1974. CBS News

His first go-around in City Hall ended in disgrace in 1984, after he pleaded no contest to assaulting the man Cianci suspected was having an affair with his estranged wife.

"At one point, you know, he hurls an ashtray at the man; the man ducks, and it misses him," recounted Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mike Stanton, who wrote the book on Cianci. "He tries to club him with a fireplace log. One of his aides jumps in and deflects the blow."

Rocca asked Cianci, ""Did you throw a log at him?"

"No, no," he replied. "I did pick up a log and threw it in the fireplace."

But Stanton called Cianci's account "total fabrication. He tried to club him. His public works director, I believe it was, jumped in and stopped him."

Cianci said to Rocca, "There's nothing new about my past. No one's gonna get a Pulitzer Prize, and no one is gonna get an Emmy by talking about what happened -- 'cause that's hardly worth, it's not breaking news."

His second stretch as mayor started 1991, and ended in 2002 with a conviction for racketeering that landed him in jail for four-and-a-half years.

Rocca said, "You will not acknowledge that you did anything knowingly wrong to put you in there?"

"I will tell you that -- talk to the jury, because the jury found me not guilty of all charges except one," said Cianci. "I'm not saying I didn't make mistakes. I did."

However, Stanton said, "Buddy will tell you they only got him on one count. But that one count counted. And racketeering conspiracy is, basically, you're masterminding a criminal enterprise out of City Hall."

Which is exactly how the judge described Providence under Cianci: "A criminal enterprise," where bribery, extortion and pay-to-play were business-as-usual.

Cianci, a Republican-turned-Independent, was released from prison in 2007.

When asked by Rocca if she should have gone to prison, Cianci replied, "You know, under the system of law that we have, yeah, I guess, that you're supposed to pay the price. I've always proclaimed my innocence, okay? Oh, I will do that forever."

Correspondent Mo Rocca and mayoral candidate Buddy Cianci. CBS News

So what are Cianci's proudest achievements? "Raising the self-esteem of the people of the city of Providence to levels they never thought they could achieve."

Fair enough. Providence, under Cianci in the 1990s, boomed, with hundreds of millions of investment dollars pouring into the city. A bustling riverfront district was created, along with nationally-recognized art and restaurant scenes.

Money magazine even named it one of its Best Places to Live in America.

"He does get credit for being, I think, a really good cheerleader for the city when it underwent its renaissance," said Stanton. "'Cause Providence always has been kind of the stepchild to Boston -- the 'smudge on the highway to Cape Cod,' as the Wall Street Journal once called us."

It's memories of the "Good Buddy" that have kept hope alive for another return to office.