Buddy, Is That You? [SOUTHCOAST VOICES]
THIS GUEST OPINION PIECE BY: Jessica Machado is a freelance writer and former contributor to the Fall River Herald News. She is also a former radio host at WSAR and political blogger.
Last month, before he was arrested for a second time, I interviewed Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia and asked him how he felt about people comparing him to infamous Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. Like most of what Correia says, I found his response to be articulate and predictable. Safe, even. He liked the comparison of how Buddy turned the city around, something Jasiel has tried to do during his short tenure as mayor in his own city.
In regards to the conviction and federal prison sentence, however, the young mayor was less willing to be aligned with his Italian counterpart and the similarities ended there. The interview carried on but less than two weeks later, Mayor Correia was indicted on charges of conspiracy, extortion and bribery, charges similar to those Cianci faced back in 2001. Taking one out of the Cianci playbook, Correia has pleaded not guilty to the 24 indictments (Cianci was indicted on 27) and intends to go to trial, despite the Facebook keyboard warriors who insist a plea deal is pending.
In case you're wondering, Cianci was acquitted on 26 of those 27 charges and sentenced to serve five years in federal prison.
It should be noted that from the day he was indicted in April of 2001 until his sentencing in September of 2002, some 16 months later, Cianci continued to serve as Mayor of Providence. Correia himself continues to show up for work on the sixth floor of Government Center every day since his indictment, and has been very vocal in his intent to serve while the case in federal court carries on. Efforts led by City Council President Cliff Ponte, Jr. and Vice President Pam Laliberte-Lebeau to have Correia removed from his elected position using a misinterpreted facet of the city charter has now escalated to both sides hiring legal representation at the cost of the taxpayers.
No one seemed to have a problem with Buddy showing up for work every day, but for some reason, the Fall River City Council feels the need to make sure Correia is removed as fast as possible, despite the fact that he has not even been convicted of a crime yet. Someone sure has an ax to grind.
The parallels between Buddy and Jasiel deepened this week as the Herald News heroically released a recording of a recent Correia campaign meeting discussing nontraditional campaign strategies with supporters. Operation Plunder Dome, as it came to be known, was the result of a leaked video of a bribe being taken during the Cianci administration. Unlike the bribe video, however, the Jasiel audio does nothing more than reaffirm to all of us that campaigns are dirty work and every opportunity that can be leveraged to gain a win can and should be used. One could easily assume that Paul Coogan himself, Correia's opponent in the upcoming election, is a political tactic of the city council to push an average, somewhat well-liked guy into the mayoral seat so that they can have more control over the city and eliminate the opposition they have encountered with the current mayor. Makes you think, doesn't it?
Recently, I saw a Coogan supporter on Facebook calling Jasiel Correia the "Portuguese Prince,” which quickly reminded me of Cianci's "Prince of Providence" nickname. Despite the dark cloud that hung over Cianci's administration, he was a lauded member of the community, beaming with Italian pride. Like Cianci, Jasiel is Portuguese proud, a bilingual, life long resident who embraces the fading Portuguese culture in a city looking to define itself beyond the cotton mill days. Correia, too, has a vision for Fall River, one that he wants to see to fruition.
Should he not get re-elected this November, perhaps a comeback to politics is in his future and he can eventually see through his plan for his beloved city. If not, maybe his own brand of Chourico and Peppers on store shelves?
Editor's Note: 'SouthCoast Voices' is a series of guest opinions from newsmakers and other people across the region, on relevant issues that directly impact the people of Greater New Bedford and the surrounding communities. The opinions are solely those of the author. If you are interested in contributing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.