CENTRAL FALLS – First-term City Councilman James Diossa sprinted ahead of the five-person primary field for mayor, taking 2,039 votes, or 59 percent of the total Tuesday. That puts him in a run-off on Dec. 11 with popular former Police Chief Joseph Moran, who captured 627 votes, or 18 percent according to unofficial tallies that do not include 246 mail ballots.
Those mail ballots leave a small window of opportunity for former Mayor Thomas Lazieh, who garnered 530 votes, or 15 percent to still make a bid for the second spot in the run-off.
Finishing in single digits percentagewise were Bruce Corrigan, whose 140 votes earned him fourth place with 4 percent and Tia Ristaino-Siegal, who took won 99 votes for 3 percent.
The mayoral primary, combined with the presidential race and a hot contest for the 1st District congressional seat, made for what City Clerk Marie Twohy called a “record turnout” in a city election of 3,435 voters. Usually, she said a mayoral race will attract about 2,000 to 2,500 voters.
What can not be known at this time is whether that turnout record will hold for next month’s run-off and, if not, how that might affect the result.
The winner of the run-off will serve out the last remaining year of the term of former Mayor Charles Moreau, who resigned last month after being indicted on charges that he gave out lucrative city contracts to a friend who provided a free boiler and improvements to one of his homes. Moreau is scheduled to be in U.S. District Court today to change his plea to guilty on those charges.
Asked about his wide margin of victory, Diossa said, “People wanted a new voice, new ideas; someone to steer the city in the right direction – open, honest government, a government that is going to work for the people and bring pride back to the city.”
Despite his large margin of victory in the primary, Diossa told The Times that he and his supporters are going to keep working hard in the run-off. “We’re not going to take any days off.”
Asked whether his opposition on the council to the Moreau administration, Diossa downplayed that as a factor. “I was focused on my campaign and getting my message out.”
“Coming in second, I have a lot of work to do,” Moran acknowledged from his celebration at the Madeira Club. “I have to dig a little deeper into the electorate of Central Falls. The presidential election had a lot to do with the high turnout.”
Noting Diossa’s high vote total, Moran noted that he has been an underdog before in other contests in his life and he accepts that role in the run-off.
Lazieh, who did not seem sanguine Tuesday night about the possibility of mail ballots boosting him into second place, said “I’ve had better nights.”
Lazieh, who was mayor from 1990 to 1995, said he was running against the state Democratic Party, which had lent support to Diossa, the endorsements of Sen. Jack Reed and Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, who urged his supporters to help Diossa, and the city’s large Latino community.
Saying he will remain involved in city affairs, Lazieh pledged, “I will still speak out on what I think is right and what I think is wrong.” Asked about the possibility of another comeback try, Lazieh said, “I’ve still got my campaign materials, I’ve still got my signs, I will make that decision when the time comes.
Whichever of the two top mayoral candidates actually wins the job, he will be in charge of implementing several changes to the way the city is governed dictated Tuesday by voters who made amendments to the City Charter.
Gayle Corrigan, chief of staff to the state-appointed receiver, told the Times that difficulty with a modem on the voting machines meant that totals for the referendum questions were not available on Tuesday night. City officials had to hand-carry the cartridges from voting machines to the Board of Elections in Providence to get them counted.
Those questions included:
• Should two at-large (elected citywide) members be added to the City Council which now has five members, one from each of five wards?
• Should city councilors be elected to two-year terms, rather than the current four-year terms?
• Should there be term limits on city councilors restricting them to eight consecutive years?
• Should there be term limits that restrict the mayor to two consecutive four-year terms?
• Should the mayor be subject to recall, with the provision that there be no recall within six months of the start of the first term of an administration or within six months of the next election?
• Should municipal elections be held in November of even-numbered years, instead of the current off-year elections?
• Should city councilors no longer receive medical and dental insurance as well as retirement benefits?
• Should there be a residency requirement for mayor identical to those now in place for city councilors?