'The Mayor Is Accustomed To Getting Arrested': Fall River Meeting Goes Off The Rails
Fall River's tense politics convulsed again Monday night when police responded to a standoff between the City Council and Mayor Jasiel Correia, who is governing while under indictment.
The bizarre scene featured members of the council, which voted "no confidence" in Correia in November, threatening to have police remove the mayor from the council floor.
"I know the mayor is accustomed to getting arrested," Councilor Shawn Cadime quipped. "I don't want that to happen here."
When Correia refused to leave, the council ultimately voted to adjourn without concluding the evening's business, instead of asking police to intervene.
The drama began two hours earlier, with the council grilling the city engineer and other officials over a public works project that some councilors say is being mismanaged. As critical questioning continued, Correia unexpectedly appeared in the council chamber and strode onto the floor to join his aides.
"Excuse me, Mr. Mayor, is there a reason you're just walking on the council floor uninvited?" asked Council President Cliff Ponte.
Correia later told WBUR that had been watching a live video stream of the meeting at home and drove to City Hall because he felt some councilors were treating members of his administration unfairly.
Ponte asked Correia to leave the floor, then called a recess when the mayor didn't budge. Two additional police officers joined the one already on duty, as the stalemate stretched on, for about 45 minutes.
Seemingly unflustered, Correia sat for an interview with WBUR during the recess. He accused councilors of exaggerating problems with the public works project that was the subject of the meeting, claiming that some members are trying to make him look bad, ahead of next month's primary election.
"That's what they're doing, and I cannot stress enough that there are councilors on this council that have a personal vendetta, that have an issue with me personally, that obviously don't want to see me succeed in this upcoming election," Correia said.
The city is in a dispute with a general contractor over quality and cost of work on a street repair and beautification project, which Correia characterized as a normal part of local governance. Ponte and some other councilors described the project as a failure, however.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in October charged Correia with nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. The indictment alleges that Correia defrauded investors in a company he founded before he became mayor, diverting roughly two-thirds of the money he raised "to fund his own lavish lifestyle, burgeoning political career, and the needs of his other business ventures."
Correia denies the charges.
Fall River voters recalled Correia in March, but the mayor won back his job in a special election on the same day. Though he collected only 35% of the vote in the special election, Correia had the highest total because voters who wanted to oust him split their allegiances among four candidates.
Correia now must defend his seat again in a regular election this fall.