Once Again Under Indictment, Fall River Mayor Faces Voters

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Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia speaks beside his attorney Kevin Reddington outside the federal courthouse, Sept. 6, 2019, in Boston. (Philip Marcelo/AP)
Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia speaks beside his attorney Kevin Reddington outside the federal courthouse, Sept. 6, 2019, in Boston. (Philip Marcelo/AP)

Fall River voters head to the polls Tuesday to select two candidates for the mayoral election in November.

One candidate on the preliminary ballot is the incumbent mayor, Jasiel Correia, who's under indictment on corruption charges and facing a city council bent on removing him from office.

Tim McCoy, a candidate for the city's school committee, is against Correia's reelection bid. He’s looking forward to a time when Fall River returns to normal, and he says having an indicted mayor makes it harder to do school committee business with the trust of the community.

"I think where folks are watching our meetings and not having to worry about the behind-the-scenes dynamic and ... political rivalry and mistrust in the school department, is something that would be better off, you know, removed," he said.

Tuesday's election is the first in Fall River since March, when 57% of voters decided to recall Correia from office. But the city charter allowed Correia to run to replace himself, and he squeaked by four divided candidates with just over a third of the vote.

During the recall election, Correia was under indictment for separate fraud charges that date back to his business dealing before becoming mayor. But now he faces a second round of charges, this time involving public corruption.

So the big question may be whether Correia supporters draw the line at allegations that he’s abusing the office of mayor.

“I think people want to know that whoever they elect to these positions is honest and the No. 1 interest is looking out for the people of Fall River, not doing something for themselves or their friends," said Paul Coogan, one of three candidates on Tuesday's ballot.

Coogan, a former vice principal at Durfee High School who's expected to face Correia in the November general election, says the overarching issue in the campaign isn’t opioids or economic development or schools — but the climate around City Hall.

"People are growing weary," Coogan said. "They're growing weary of all the mayor's friends that he runs with plead guilty or cut a deal with the U.S. attorney, and he's the only one I know that's saying he's innocent, but he's gonna fight it."

But some of Correia’s supporters see the indictment as a political conspiracy against a mayor who’s shaking up Fall River and cutting out the power players who used to run the city. For them, when the city council last week voted 8 to 1 to remove the embattled mayor, it was more evidence of this supposed conspiracy.

Just before that vote, Correia led a rally outside City Hall. He told WBUR he’d refuse to obey the council’s order.

"It's unbelievable what's happening from a federal level all the way down to the local level tonight at the chamber," he said. "It's an attack. It's an attack."

Elected at the age of 23, Correia was seen as having a bright future in Massachusetts politics. Now, even under indictment, he still exudes confidence.

"As I said tonight to a few of these supporters who are here ... they know I'm innocent of these things," Correia said, "I know I'm innocent of these things, I've given the explanations I could give, but at the end of the day, what mayor in the last 10 years has actually done things to improve their lives?”

Some in Fall River say the mayor's political future is doomed.

Political observer and city resident CJ Ferry says he expects Correia to make it past Tuesday’s preliminary, then go down in the final election at the hands of most voters.

But Ferry notes Correia still has a dedicated base.

"Jasiel is very much like P.T. Barnum," Ferry said. "He could charm a dog off of a meat wagon. And people buy his story of everything that he has allegedly accomplished, when a lot of those accomplishments came from previous administrations. But as it always goes, the guy who is in office now takes credit for it.”

The third candidate running is Erica Scott-Pacheco, who comes from the nonprofit sector and has never held elected office. Ferry says she lacks the experience and name recognition to make it past the preliminaries.

But Ferry says Fall River voters have a tendency to surprise, and he’s hoping Scott-Pacheco gets more votes than Correia in the preliminary election — and puts an end to the turmoil Tuesday night.

This segment aired on September 17, 2019.

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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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