Our vaunted democracy is no match for a politician utterly bereft of scruples, not to mention shame.
To illustrate this sad fact, let us go not to the White House, but to Fall River’s City Hall (though the parallels are striking).
Word came down on Monday that Mayor Jasiel Correia, facing multiple federal indictments for fraud, bribery, and tax evasion, will take a leave of absence from his job leading the city where, if federal prosecutors are to be believed, he made a clumsy art of shaking down marijuana vendors and others for almost $600,000 in bribes.
Because he is taking a leave rather than resigning, Correia will continue to collect his $119,000 annual salary until a new mayor (one can dream) takes office next year.
Of course he will. Brazen doesn’t begin to capture Correia’s alleged exploits. He did not hide behind middlemen or couch his bribe demands in ways that might give him plausible deniability, according to prosecutors. No, a September indictment alleges the Democrat did much of his shaking down personally. Prosecutors say he also extorted money from his partners in crime — people whose testimony could send him to prison. And he did so even though he knew he was already under investigation by the feds, who charged him with defrauding investors in a tech startup. (In the 2018 indictment, prosecutors said he pocketed that money to spend on a Mercedes-Benz, casinos, and adult entertainment.)
But, try as they might, people in Fall River — or at least those troubled by such allegations — could not rid themselves of the mayor. He was reelected in 2017 even though voters knew he was under federal scrutiny. He survived a March recall vote even though more than 60 percent of voters wanted him gone. (In a five-candidate race, Correia was both recalled and narrowly reelected.) And last week, a court ruled that the City Council could not remove him either.
Another mayor — say, somebody with a capacity for embarrassment or a moral compass — might have slunk away long before now. Not Correia. He may have been unfathomably daft when it came to his alleged crimes, but he knows the weaknesses in the political system, and how ill-equipped it is to thwart a politician who is nakedly self-interested and unconcerned about appearing utterly corrupt. (Sound familiar?)
He would even bend the electoral process — that last line of defense — to his will. (How about now?)
After placing a distant second in September’s mayoral primary, Correia hatched a scheme to win reelection: “I still need your help to win in an untraditional way,” he told fans at a gathering, asking them to keep his plan under wraps, according to a recording obtained by the Fall River Herald News. Untraditional is one word for it: Correia wanted to recruit a write-in candidate solely to split the vote so he could win without a majority again.
“It’s important because it makes it a multi-person race,” said Correia, according to the Herald News. “I think everybody can read between the lines — a multi-person race like the recall.”
In a remarkable coincidence, a write-in candidate announced a run for mayor on Wednesday: City Administrator Cathy Ann Viveiros. At an afternoon press conference, Viveiros, who has run for the office unsuccessfully five times, insisted she was coming forward to give voters an alternative to School Committee member Paul Coogan, who topped the primary ballot, and to carry on the progress the city has made under Correia.
Asked whether she was part of Correia’s scheme to win reelection, Viveiros said she was “absolutely . . . an independent individual.” She said Correia — who vowed to suspend his political campaign — “is no longer a candidate on that ballot in the upcoming election.”
Viveiros seems to have an awful lot of faith in Correia, whose name will in fact be on that ballot in three weeks, campaign suspension or not. History shows it’s not a faith anyone in the city should share.
Correia probably won’t be able to game his way out of a federal prosecution, but he’s done a pretty good job so far of blowing through political checks on his power.
Why would he stop now?