Right now, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia may be under more pressure than any other politician in Massachusetts.
In October, Correia was indicted for allegedly defrauding investors in an app he created back in 2012. As he fights the charges in that case, Correia is also facing a March recall election that could cut his once-promising political career short.
If the 27-year-old Correia is rattled by the pressure, though, he’s hiding it pretty well.
“At the end of the day, it's the people's choice,” Correia said during a recent interview in his office. “They are the ones that will either affirm me as the mayor or not.”
As Correia sees it, that choice should be a no-brainer. Since he first took office in 2016, Correia says, his administration has streamlined city services; increased funding for Fall River's schools, police and fire department; and strengthened the city’s financial resiliency by building its rainy-day fund from $500,000 to $7.4 million.
“I know my legacy is solidified,” Correia said.
“When you walk out of this office, we also have all the pictures of every mayor in the city of Fall River,” he added. “One day I will no longer be the mayor, at some point. My picture will there. And I hope that people remember the good things that I did for the city of Fall River."
“And that’s something that nobody can take away from me. Not the feds, not my opponents. Nobody can take that away.”
Correia says he's innocent of the charges against him, and that his ongoing legal struggles haven’t compromised his ability to represent Fall River’s residents.
“Do these 13 charges that have nothing to do with me being the mayor, that are from a company that I started when I was a young entrepreneur, at 19 years old … Does that affect them? No. The answer is no,” Correia said. “And it will never affect them.”
But according to Paul Coogan, a Fall River school committee member, who’s one of four challengers running in the recall, that argument doesn’t ring true.
Coogan points to a recent groundbreaking ceremony for Fall River’s new, $260 million high school: “No one from the state level came. No treasurer, no lieutenant governor, no governor. None of them wanted to come down to participate."
“They didn’t want to come down to have their picture taken with the mayor because they cause they don’t want to be associated with a person in that predicament," Coogan said.
Coogan also criticizes the mayor’s style, claiming he’s too detached. And he implies that, by being inattentive to comings and goings at the city’s public-housing projects, Correia has allowed Fall River’s crime and drug problems to grow worse.
“You drive through some of our developments, our housing developments at night — New York plates, Illinois plates, Indiana plates,” Coogan said. “Are they having a night with a friend? Are they visiting relatives? That’s fine, but who are those people? What are they doing here?"
“A reasonable person could say, ‘Well, why are they drifting through?' I’m driving around in a Ford Escape, they’re driving around in a Mercedes 500. I don’t know how that works. They may be 100 percent legit, but I’d love to know.”
Another challenger, Erica Scott-Pacheco, offers a different critique. She thinks Correia is too interested in attracting affluent newcomers to Fall River, and not interested enough in providing for current residents of limited means.
“The street that runs behind my house, Alden Street, is a pretty well-known street in my neighborhood,” said Scott-Pacheco, who works at a local legal nonprofit, “full of mills. One of those mills recently was converted into market-rate housing, which sadly is inaccessible to the majority of people in Fall River.
“Our average family income is $33,000, and 88 percent of people in the city are low or moderate income. I’m one of them,” Scott-Pacheco added. “So I really question why the current administration is putting a huge focus on market-rate housing. It’s causing an influx of people who are new to our city, and it’s unfortunately causing other rents to rise, and pricing out many people: working families, elders who are on fixed incomes.”
Two other candidates, City Councilor Joseph Camara and school administrator Kyle Riley, will join Correia, Coogan and Scott-Pacheco on the mayoral-recall ballot.
When Correia cruised to re-election in 2017, he was endorsed by the Fall River Herald News, even though the paper knew he was under investigation.
“On balance, it seemed like he’d done a lot of good things,” said editor Lynne Sullivan.
“He has big plans for Fall River,” she added. “He sees possibilities that maybe, for years, people were like, ‘It’s never going to happen in Fall River.’ And you sort of like that positivity, that ability to dream.”
But now that Correia has been indicted, Sullivan says, his baggage has become more burdensome — which is why the paper has called on him to resign, twice.
“These are serious charges. It’s just going to take up too much time,” Sullivan said. “It reflects poorly on the city. It’s like a black cloud over the city.”
With four different candidates vying against him, Correia could win the recall with a relatively small share of the vote.
He’s also got the power of incumbency on his side. This week, Corriea announced that he’s ending a pay-as-you-throw trash program which generated millions of dollars for the city, but was disliked by many voters.
“Is that a political move? Of course,” Correia said. “Everything you do has a political ramification, positive or negative."
“To get rid of that fee, even in these times, certainly gives me an edge in the recall election. But it’s something the taxpayers have been calling for a number of years.”
And another achievement Correia can cite as he fights to keep his job.