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The Fall River City Council voted, 8-1, Tuesday to temporarily remove indicted Mayor Jasiel Correia from office, one week before a preliminary election that pits Correia against two rivals.
A few hours ahead of the city council meeting, Correia stood with about two dozen supporters, his father among them, the supporters waving to people driving by and honking — some with a thumbs up, others with a middle finger.
Asked ahead of the meeting what he'd do if the council voted to remove him, Correia said he'd continue to show up to City Hall like any other day.
“We already went through this,” Correia said. "They do not have the power to remove the mayor from office at any whim. There are parameters already in the [city] charter that explain when a mayor has to vacate his office. This is not one of them."
But almost the entire council believes it does have the power to temporarily replace the mayor with the city council president.
The move was a forceful rebuke that the council resisted when Correia first faced fraud charges last fall. The council initially voted no confidence in the mayor and set a recall election, which Correia survived.
But after Correia was arrested a second time on Friday and charged with extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies, an overwhelming majority of the council backed his ouster.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The initial indictment in October revolved around a tech startup Correia founded before taking office.
After the first round of charges, a recall election called by the council failed, as did an attempt by the council to remove him. This time, councilors say the mayor crossed a line by using his office for personal gain.
Leo Pelletier was among the eight councilors who voted against Correia. He compared Correia to the late former mayor of Providence — who was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and compared to a TV mobster.
“This is the worst that I’ve ever seen in my political life — talk about Buddy Cianci, he was a priest compared to this guy ... It’s like a Soprano case,” he said.
But Correia’s supporters are adamant their mayor is capable of doing his job.
They say "innocent until proven guilty," and say the opposition Correia is facing comes from establishment figures upset he’s shaking up Fall River’s government.
Councilor Stephen Camara cast the sole vote against the effort to remove Correia, even though he said he's concerned about the allegations.
"It’s wrong for us to do something that I think is not within our jurisdiction," he said. "From all I understand about the law, what I understand about being an elected official. All these things tell me this is not our jurisdiction."
But the rest of the councilors ignored Camara’s argument.
They cited a provision in the city charter that says the council can decide whether a mayor is unable to perform the duties of the office, and thus replace him.
But the legality of Correia’s removal will likely be decided by a judge.
Council President Cliff Ponte — who's slated to become the acting mayor on Friday — said there’s a solution to the daunting prospect of a long court battle.
"We don’t have to drag it on if the mayor just resigns. We can eliminate this heartache. We can eliminate concern about using taxpayer dollars for a battle between the mayor and city council," he said. "The mayor should just step aside, work on his issues. And then the business of the people would continue at that point."
Ponte on Monday had asked Correia to step down, but Correia refused.
In response to Ponte's proposal, Correia recommended the council review all official mayoral actions.
But Ponte said he’s expecting Correia to file for an injunction in an attempt to stay in office.
Asked about the injunction, Correia said in a text message late Tuesday night that the removal is unenforceable, but if anything changes, he said he’ll reassess.
Next week, the mayor will face off with two challengers in a preliminary race that will place the top two vote-getters on the general election ballot in November.
With reporting from WBUR's Callum Borchers and The Associated Press
This segment aired on September 11, 2019.
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