PROVIDENCE — James A. Diossa is making the case that his experience as mayor of Central Falls qualifies him to be state treasurer for Rhode Island.
Skeptics question how significant his role was is leading the small, impoverished city out of bankruptcy while he was mayor from 2013 to 2020. But during the Rhode Island Report podcast, he argued that he played a key role in helping Central Falls bounce back and regain trust in its government.
“I’m very proud of the work that we did in Central Falls,” Diossa said. “I had a great team, a great vision to manage the city out of bankruptcy.”
He noted that when Central Falls first filed for bankruptcy in 2011, he was a member of the City Council, and he was elected mayor after the previous mayor, Charles D. Moreau, was indicted on corruption charges. “So the city really hit a rock bottom,” he said.
Central Falls emerged from bankruptcy in 2012 after a judge signed off on a plan that balanced the city’s budget for the next five years by hiking taxes, cutting employees and pensions, and revising labor contracts.
“A plan can’t manage itself,” Diossa said. “And so I was able to manage the five-year plan.”
While the plan asked for five years of maximum tax increases, he said, “We only had to do three. We were able to be very creative and innovative about how to instill trust in government again, how to fix our infrastructure, how to add more green spaces.”
And now the city has made significant progress, Diossa said. “It’s more vibrant than ever,” he said. “It’s a great little city.”
Diossa is running in a Democratic primary against Stefan Pryor, the former Rhode Island commerce secretary. Pryor ‘s campaign recently issued a statement saying Pryor had raised more campaign cash in seven weeks than Diossa had in seven months.
When asked what he made of that, Diossa said, “Nothing.” He said the campaign will hinge on which candidate people can relate to the best, and he said he has interacted with people across the state as mayor and as president of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.
“Not only do I have a test of leadership and managing through crisis, I believe that I’m the most relatable in this campaign for the people of Rhode Island,” he said.
Diossa said he is supporting Governor Daniel J. McKee, a former Cumberland mayor, in the Democratic primary for governor. “We’ve been mayors together, and I’ve seen his work and his approach to many things as governor, and I’m happy to count with his support,” he said
McKee, the former lieutenant governor, did not choose Diossa to replace him when he became governor although Diossa was among the five finalists. But McKee did vote for Diossa when the Democratic State Committee endorsed him over Pryor at the June 26 party convention.
So Diossa, the first Latino mayor in Central Falls history, will not be backing Secretary of State Nellie M. Gobea, who would be the state’s first Latina governor, or Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who would be the state’s first Latino governor.
Diossa said Gorbea is a friend who is “extremely qualified” and Muñoz was in his class at Central Falls High School. While there are not many “degrees of separation here in Rhode Island,” he said, “In this race, I was able to receive the support of Governor McKee, and I’ve been working closely with him since back in the day when I was a mayor.”
Diossa said he is supporting Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and he is backing General Treasurer Seth Magaziner in the 2nd Congressional District primary.
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.