If democracy means the people get the government they deserve, then what did the people of Fall River do to deserve this?
Thanks to an inexplicable loophole in the city’s recall election provision, voters overwhelmingly booted Mayor Jasiel Correia out of office — and, on the same ballot, narrowly reelected him.
Meet the new mayor. . . same as the old mayor: indicted.
In a 13-count federal indictment last year, prosecutors alleged that Correia bilked investors in his social media startup out of more than $200,000 and filed false tax returns in 2013 and 2014.
There was literally no time at all between Correia’s removal and his reelection Tuesday night, but if anybody can botch the transition, it’s this guy.
The whole thing would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad, because if ever a city needed real leadership, it’s Fall River. The city has never recovered from the demise of its textile industry. Median family income dropped more than 20 percent between 2000 and 2014 to about $42,000, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Predictably, the opioid crisis is raging.
A lot of good, hard-working people live there. The city’s sort-of-heartbreaking motto — seriously — is “We’ll Try,” and they do.
They deserve a leader like Dan Rivera, who has brought Lawrence, his similarly sized and similarly troubled city, back to regional relevance. He’ ha also proved himself in a crisis. When South Lawrence blew up without warning, Rivera was everywhere, directing emergency services to put out literal fires while holding Columbia gas officials to figurative ones, all while spending the night in a shelter.
Now imagine that disaster had happened without warning in Fall River. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Correia watching his city burn in the rear-view mirror of the Mercedes that prosecutors say he bought with money he got by defrauding investors in his startup, SnoOwl.
Correia may have gotten the most votes of any of the five candidates on the ballot Tuesday, but voters overwhelming chose candidates who weren’t him. Now Fall River is stuck with a younger, bouncier, fluffier version of Buddy Cianci, Providence’s infamous bad-penny mayor. He’s Bunny Cianci.
The indictment against Correia alleges a scam so transparent that it’s almost like he wasn’t trying to hide it, spending investors’ money on luxury goods and “adult entertainment,” writing his own name on checks made out to the app development startup he allegedly used to pay for his lifestyle and even his campaign.
Correia has pleaded not guilty, denied the allegations, and continued to serve as mayor, to the near-continuous eye-rolling of many other city officials. Correia, elected at just 23 years old in 2015, by many accounts had some good moments in his first term. But given the nature and details of the charges against him, how can anyone possibly trust that he’s running the city’s finances responsibly? And even if you don’t care about allegedly bilking investors, wouldn’t the apparent incompetence of the scam give you pause?
Voters in Fall River were probably wondering the same thing when they voted to recall him by nearly a 40-point margin on Tuesday. But because the four other candidates for mayor on the two-part ballot split the non-Correia vote, he was reelected despite about 65 percent of voters’ preferring someone else.
The technical aspect of this is troubling. It’s hard to imagine a more obvious case for ranked choice voting, in which voters fill out a ballot in order of preference and have their votes counted again as the least popular candidates are eliminated. Anyone who voted to actively remove Correia from office probably wouldn’t have had him high on their ballot.
And in this specific case, you have to wonder why four people thought it was a good idea to pack the ballot and make this outcome possible.
If only there were some precedent for deeply unpopular, possibly felonious candidates winning high office due to electoral quirks despite losing the actual vote handily. But that could never happen in America. Could it?
In the documentary “Fyre,” a band of scoundrels and nincompoops parlay an app startup into a catastrophic music festival, featuring has-been rapper Ja Rule, that left some residents of the Bahamian island that was defiled by attendees holding the bag.
Correia appears to have pulled the same act, with the city of Fall River serving as his endless municipal Fyre Festival. And the residents didn’t even get to meet Ja Rule.
So consider this more of a Ja Suggestion: Resign.
Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.