When he won election two years ago, Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was just 23 years old. Now, voters must decide if they want Correia to stay.
A preliminary election Tuesday will narrow the field ahead of a final mayoral vote in November.
At Harry’s Restaurant in downtown Fall River, a popular place for breakfast, the menu includes hearty fare like a Portuguese omelette with linguica. Jacinta Perry was sitting with a friend at Harry’s on a recent weekday morning, sharing shared her view of Mayor Jasiel Correia. She’s not concerned about the mayor’s young age – he’s just 25 years old.
"I think he’s very mature for his age and I think he’s knows what he’s doing," Perry said.
Perry is friends with one of the other candidates running for mayor, City Council Vice President Linda Pereira, who is considered Correia’s top rival. Perry may vote for Pereira, in part because she thinks there should be more women in political office. Still, Perry credits Mayor Correia with doing a good job. She brings up improvemens in the economy and the internet giant Amazon, which has a distribution center in the works.
“I think he’s brought a lot of positive things to the city," Perry said. "It looks like there a lot of jobs being created, the streets are being fixed.”
But in some ways, Correia has benefited from good timing. Plans for the Amazon shipping center, bringing hundreds of jobs to the city, began before Correia won election in 2015. And the unemployment rate has dropped to 7 percent, from a high of 15 percent during the Great Recession.
Correia ousted incumbent mayor Sam Sutter by only about 600 votes in a preliminary election two years ago, with a message that Fall River could do better. Making his pitch in an online video profile posted by a nonprofit group, Fall River Community Media, Correia said the city had "limped on" but failed to thrive, and he presented himself as a new leader who could change that.
"My life experiences have helped me become a young leader who is decisive, can build excellent teams and most importantly, listen to others, because I recognize that I don’t have all the answers," he told viewers.
Correia made his interest in politics clear at an early age. He served in student government as an undergrad at Providence College and then won election to the Fall River City Council in 2013, just after getting his degree.
Back at Harry’s Restaurant, I asked the digital city editor for the Fall River Herald News, Will Richmond, how residents think Correia is doing. Richmond said the mayor maintains strong support among local voters.
"There are people who like that he’s kind of come in, shook up the status quo a little bit, and his top opponent is that sort of return to the status quo. It's really created the dynamic of continuing old versus new."
In some ways, Correia is both old and new. He describes himself as someone who grew up in a triple decker with multiple generations of his Portuguese and Cape Verdean family. But he also started a tech company before running for mayor.
And Correia won support from some residents by following through on a campaign pledge to eliminate a $10 a month fee for garbage pickup.
But there’s a shadow over Correia, posed by an FBI investigation of the mayor and his tech company. Correia recently acknowledged the probe to the Herald News. He said he won’t get into trouble because he did nothing wrong. According to journalist Will Richmond, it’s hard to assess what’s really going on since relatively little is known about the probe.
Around Fall River, not everyone seems aware of the investigation. But Correia is a visible presence with campaign signs posted all over town.
Ethan Mateus works at The Pink Bean coffee shop where he’s made Correia coffee a couple of times. Mateus said he doesn’t really follow politics, but he likes how Correia got involved as a young person.
“I think more young kids should try to get into politics, or at least be aware of what’s going on.”
This city of 90,000 people has its challenges. Like many other New England cities, it’s never really recovered from the long-ago loss of manufacturing jobs. Some of the residents I spoke with pointed to the persistence of drugs and violence as problems that need to be addressed.
Walk down the street in Fall River, and you can still hear locals speaking Portuguese, a testament to the city's sizeable Cape Verdean and Portuguese communities.
I found John Borges talking with two older Portuguese men outside the Café Europa bakery on Columbia Street. He said he’s been sober for ten years after his own problems with drugs. Borges plans to vote for Mayor Correia.
"I think the mayor’s doing an ok job. I mean, he is a young guy" Borges said. "I think he’s going to win the election by a landslide and hopefully we can see some changes around here."
A total of five candidates are running in today’s non-partisan preliminary election for mayor. The top two vote-getters will square off in November.