Meet the modern Irish pol: Jasiel F. Correia II.
The fact that his father is from Cape Verde and his mother from the Azores misses the point. That he is facing multiple indictments is beside the point.
He’s like Willie Lantigua, the fast-talking, double-dipping former mayor of Lawrence who was Dominican but a consummate Irish politician, and James Michael Curley, Boston’s most notorious mayor, who wrote the book on being an Irish pol in Massachusetts.
Just as Correia is not the first politician to face multiple criminal charges, Lantigua was hardly the first to hold two jobs at taxpayer expense. When Irish pols double-dipped, my tribe called them industrious. Some were less forgiving when the double-dipper or some other ethically challenged pol had darker skin or spoke a different language.
Slick Willie Lantigua had more investigations aimed at him than taxpayer jobs held, but that didn’t stop most people in Lawrence from liking and voting for him.
Whatever you think of Correia and Lantigua, they were pikers compared with Curley, who served four terms as mayor, two terms as a congressman, a term as governor of Massachusetts, and a couple of terms in the slammer.
Curley made his political bones by going to jail for taking civil service exams for Irish immigrants. The Brahmins who ran Boston were appalled. Immigrants struggling to get a foothold loved him.
The good ladies of Beacon Hill clutched their pearls, wondering how the great unwashed from Ireland and Italy and Lithuania and God knows where else could vote for a rogue like Curley.
Once, I wrote a piece about Curley in which I included a précis of his corruption, and my mother lit into me. She was having none of this guff about Curley being a thief. Curley helped her brother Henny when he couldn’t find a job during the Depression.
“Ma,” I said, “Curley was shaking down the banks.”
My mother, the daughter of Irish-speaking immigrants who grew up poor in South Boston, snapped back, “What did the banks ever do for us?”
While Correia faces charges, a lot of people in Fall River, channeling my mom, would ask, “What have the feds ever done for us?”
Correia’s odds at beating the rap are long. When the feds come after you, you face the choice of pleading guilty or going broke. If you go to trial, most often you get convicted; acquittals are rare.
Correia is undeniably charismatic, and in politics, charisma matters far more than ethics. Just look who’s in the White House. Older women in Fall River, who vote disproportionately, love Correia. He’s a college boy from the ’hood who made it. They want to hug him. They don’t care what federal prosecutors — who couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be poor in Fall River — think.
Correia is just a new-model Curley and Lantigua. Or even a new Buddy Cianci, another Irish pol who happened to be Italian, the longtime mayor in Providence, where Correia went to college. They all spoke with silver tongues and were heroes to the poor. They dismissed prosecutions aimed at them as witch hunts against uppity ethnics.
I was in Ireland last week, and the stereotype of it being a backward, devoutly Roman Catholic country full of pasty white people being led around the nose by deeply conservative bishops with skeletons in their closets is so outdated as to be ridiculous. Ireland is a thoroughly modern, increasingly diverse place.
The prime minister, or taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is openly gay, the son of an Indian immigrant. He’s also conservative, at least in a European context.
Being Irish isn’t about race or ethnicity anymore. It’s a state of mind, for both good and bad.
Jasiel Correia would be a great speaker at the Paddy’s Day breakfast in Southie next March.
That’s if he isn’t in the can by then.