No one would ever think that you’d need to recall a mayor twice.
But that’s exactly what Fall River residents are grappling with. The troubling development raises urgent questions — again — about a flawed municipal process that allows voters to oust a mayor from office, but then gives him a backdoor way to get right back in.
Four years ago, voters recalled Mayor William Flanagan after widespread displeasure over layoffs in the city’s fire department and trash collection fees. Flanagan then ran in the race to replace himself — on the same ballot. Ultimately residents elected one of his opponents as his successor, Sam Sutter, who then lost less than a year later to the office’s current occupant, Jasiel F. Correia II . Now Correia, whom federal prosecutors charged two months ago with fraud and tax evasion, is facing his own recall.
Flanagan’s ouster — which led to a superior court ruling stating it was constitutional for the mayor’s name to appear on the recall ballot as a candidate as well — left the city so scarred that it launched a multiyear effort to amend its charter, revisions that were approved by voters last year.
But the revamp didn’t include barring incumbents in a recall election from running on the same ballot for the same office. Here’s one big reason that’s such a problem: The new election may include many candidates, and the winner only needs a plurality. So if the majority of voters want to recall Correia, he could then conceivably be releected right away from a divided field.
Correia told the Globe he “can and will” be among the candidates. “I’m not afraid to ask the people again to vote for me,” he said. Two other candidates are also indicating they’ll run: Flanagan and Sutter. So the possibility of a recall, then a plurality election, is alive and well.
To make matters worse for him, Correia has engaged in an online fight against local reporter Jo Goode for. . . well, it’s unclear why. The silly spat even made the Washington, D.C., press. The mayor’s behavior is, at best, childish and unbecoming.
Governor Charlie Baker has said it would be “in the best interests of the people of Fall River” for Correia to “step aside until the case is resolved.” Correia has declined. Fine — that’s his right. But the city — and the others in Massachusetts that allow recall elections — should take this as a reminder that loopholes allowing plurality reelections ought to be closed.