Standing on a chair at Lepage’s Seafood & Grille in Fall River, the city’s incumbent Mayor Jasiel Correia announced his victory with unbridled optimism: “We’re going to win on November 5,” Correia exclaimed, chanting along with the small but packed dining room. “We’re going to win November 5.”
Correia, who faces multiple federal corruption charges, came in second in Tuesday’s preliminary election and will move forward as a candidate for the seat in the city’s general election.
Correia finished behind school board member Paul Coogan. Longtime community advocate Erica Scott-Pacheco, who came in behind them, is out of the race.
“I've said all along that we were going to be in the top two, and this is a victory,” Correia said. “This is the semi-finals, now we go on to the finals. Mano a mano. One on one."
Correia’s win comes in the midst of two federal indictments for charges including alleged extortion, tax fraud, and bribery. The first set of federal charges stem from alleged abuse of investor funds in an app Correia created called SnoOwl. The second set involves alleged extortion of marijuana companies hoping to do business in Fall River. Correia has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“We're going through a very challenging time as a family, the most challenging time that any person ever can probably experience, aside from a death or disease,” Correia said of the indictments. “This is probably the most challenging thing that anyone can go through. However there has not been a single day that I haven't showed up on the job and that I haven't been focused.”
Correia beat Coogan in last March’s election, when voters recalled Correia out of office and simultaneously elected him back in on the same ballot. In that election, Correia beat Coogan by just 241 votes.
Though it was only a preliminary, Tuesday’s results showed a much bigger disparity. Coogan received 62.3 percent of the vote with 8,273 ballots cast in his favor. Correia came in second with 2,777 votes — 20.9 percent — passing Erica Scott-Pacheco by just a few hundred votes. Of the remaining votes, 59 were write-ins and 30 were left blank.
Earlier in the evening, just at the close of the polls, lifelong Fall River resident Samaro Degraca came to the city's Government Center to vote for Coogan.
“People were dumb enough to vote for [Correia] and elect him,” he said. “I hope this time we don’t make the same mistake.”
Degraca said he’s not a fan of all the political drama around Correia.
“I think it’s embarrassing, our city deserves better,” he said. “He’s a corrupt politician, and he deserves to go to jail.”
Voters Stephanie Lepage and her father Leo disagreed — they believe Correia is innocent, at least until proven guilty.
“I like him, I think he’s doing a good job, let’s give him a shot,” Leo said.
“Until they prove he’s a dirtbag,” Stephanie interjected, laughing.
“I hope he ain't, I really hope he ain't,” Leo said.
While voters headed to the polls, two alleged “middlemen” for Correia pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to charges of extortion, conspiracy and making false statements. Both were released pending their sentencing.
Authorities say Antonio Costa of Fall River, and David Hebert of Westport, helped Correia in a scheme to accept cash bribes in exchange for city licensing deals with marijuana companies. At least four business owners paid a total of $600,000 in bribes, authorities say.
When asked at Lepage’s what he thinks of the guilty pleas, Correia distanced himself from Hebert and Costa.
“Those people committed crimes going back to 2007,” he said. “They're not going to be serving jail time, they're cutting deals left and right for crimes they committed when I was a sophomore in high school.”
Documents unsealed Tuesday also show that Hildegar Camara, who was appointed by Correia to head a local job training program, has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The 58-year-old Fall River resident faces extortion and conspiracy charges, was placed on paid leave from his government job this week, and is due in court Thursday.
The fourth co-conspirator in the case is Correia's former chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade. The 48-year-old Somerset resident hasn't yet entered a formal plea to charges including extortion, conspiracy, and bribery.
Correia has maintained his innocence.
“I am one 100 percent innocent, whether I'm elected mayor or not,” he told reporters. “The only reason I've been brought up on these charges is because of political motivations.”
Addressing the room, Correia urged his constituents to drum up support before November.
“We're going to win in November, but that's a spread that we've got to close — and that's a big gap to close,” Correia said, gesturing at the television showing the poll numbers. “So now we strategize on how to close that gap.”
Sitting at the bar, Correia supporter Fatima Rego said she’s ready to begin the challenge.
“We got six weeks ahead of us, and we have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said. “I'm confident that it's going to flip.”