FALL RIVER — For the second time in less than a year, even a federal indictment couldn’t take an election win from Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II.
In the city’s preliminary election Tuesday — which narrowed the mayoral race from three candidates to just two — Correia came in second place, inching out nonprofit official Erica Scott-Pacheco by a 606-vote margin and earning himself a spot on the November ballot.
The spread between Correia and his first-place opponent wasn’t quite as close. School Committee member Paul E. Coogan won 8,273 votes, according to unofficial results from the city, and Correia won 2,777.
“Tonight narrows the field down,” Correia said Tuesday at his election party at a Fall River seafood restaurant. “It’s the semifinals, and we’ve got the finals. The Patriots lose a few games once in a while. They’ve lost a couple Super Bowls, but they’re still the team that’s won the most.”
“So we’re going to win,” he continued, “and we’re going to win big on Nov. 5.”
Tuesday’s election, which came just days after Correia was arrested on charges that he bribed and extorted four marijuana companies, was a temperature check for Fall River voters, many of whom say they’re writing off the allegations as nothing but blips in the young politician’s career.
“This young kid comes in and got things done,” said Lori Souza, 54, who campaigned for Correia all day. “The kid’s brilliant.”
“We all have skeletons in our closets,” she said. “So let’s knock on his, but not on anyone else’s?”
Correia, who was first elected mayor in 2015 at just 23, was previously arrested in October 2018 for allegedly misappropriating investor funding.
He faced a recall election in March following those charges, but because of a quirk in the city’s charter, was ousted and then reelected on the same ballot.
Coogan, who came in first Tuesday, fell just 241 votes short of beating Correia in March.
Correia pleaded not guilty to this month’s charges in federal court on Sept. 6, and he was released on a $25,000 bond. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
Correia said Tuesday that the allegations aren’t true, calling the federal charges a vendetta against him. “These things are totally made up,” he said.
Since his recent arrest, Correia has faced a backlash from many colleagues in city government. The City Council voted 8 to 1 last week to temporarily relieve Correia of his duties as mayor while criminal charges are pending.
It’s simply “what’s best for Fall River,” Cliff Ponte, the council president, said last week.
But that hasn’t stopped Correia from coming to work, he told The Boston Globe in an interview, and he has no plans to step down.
“This council resolution does not have any binding power behind it,” he said.
City Councilor Steven Camara, the only councilor who voted to keep Correia in office last week, was applauded when he arrived at Correia’s election party Tuesday.
He watched the results come in from a seat at the restaurant’s bar.
He said he voted to keep Correia in office because he doesn’t feel an elected City Council should decide whether another elected official has to step down. That decision, he said, should only be made by the court system or by voters.
“My position has always been that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
Denis Ronan, a voter who moved to Fall River a year ago, said it’s too early to draw conclusions about Correia’s alleged actions.
“You can’t judge people prior to a court case,” he said.
Correia’s supporters raved about things he’s done for the city, from improving schools to fixing up public parks. When he became mayor, many said, he brought the city back from a place of despair.
At City Hall on Tuesday, voters drifted in and out of the voting room, many there to support a mayor they feel has accomplished too much to vote out of office.
“He’s done a lot for the community,” said Eli Cook, a 45-year-old Fall River resident who voted early Tuesday morning. “Everybody has their opinions, but he’s been a wonderful mayor.”
Cook, who has lived in Fall River all his life, said he has “110 percent loyalty” for Correia, who he says is “innocent in my eyes.”
“I believe everybody deserves a second chance,” he said.
Judy Pimentel, a 52-year-old nursing assistant, also said she voted for Correia on Tuesday. The mayor has done too much for the city to dismiss him because of a few allegations, she said.
“To me, he’s a good mayor. And if he’s guilty, when he goes to court, we’ll see what happens,” she said.
But not everyone was on Correia’s side.
Jacinto Rodrigues, 54, said he has always supported Correia and even voted for him during his March recall election , but he just couldn’t do it this time around. He voted for Scott-Pacheco instead.
“The current mayor has too many troubles,” Rodrigues said. “I had great admiration for him and respect, but so many things are going wrong.”