A Hummel Report Investigation
Jim Hummel interviews City Councilman James Diossa.
It is a full week before Thanksgiving but they're getting a head start on the holiday at the Blackstone Falls elderly housing complex. A turkey dinner with all the fixings - courtesy of City Councilman James Diossa, who happens to also be running for mayor.
In a time-honored political tradition Diossa is here with a slew of volunteers that feed the two dozen people who show up, while the candidate makes a pitch for why he should be the next mayor of this financially beleaguered city.
While they wait for their food, volunteers ask if the residents want to sign up for absentee ballots. After all, the special election isn't until Dec. 11th - five weeks after Diossa trounced four other candidates in a primary to replace former Mayor Charles Moreau, who is heading to federal prison on corruption charges.
And in December, it's tougher to get to the polls.
But the elderly vote and the campaign knows it.
There is some irony, should Diossa become mayor.
Moreau and his four allies on the council made the first-term councilman's life miserable, freezing him out of many decisions, purposely scheduling mid-day meetings when he had to work.
In fact Diossa has never actually been inside the mayor's office.
Hummel: ``The politics and the City Council 101 that you study about and hear about, then you actually get in there - it was a little bit of a divide, was it not.?''
Dioss: ``Since Day 1 I believed I wanted to do the right thing. I like going to sleep at night with a clean conscious. I knew that every decision I was going to do was in the great interest of my constituents, who elected me.''
Hummel: ``But your fellow councilors didn't make it easy for you at the beginning did they?''
Diossa: ``It was interesting, but I always tried to make it about my constituency and not about James Diossa or the other council members.''
When Mayor Moreau proposed putting the city into receivership nearly three years ago, Diossa voted against it.
Diossa: ``I would request budgets, none of the information was being provided. So when the question came up to vote on going into receivership I said no. Especially because I felt as elected officials we needed to be held accountable.''
He is 28 years and grew up in Central Falls, winning a state soccer championship at the high school a decade ago. His parents moved here from Columbia three decades ago and in many ways he is the face of a city whose demographics have changed drastically.
He has attracted campaign contributions and help from outside the city, including the support of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who he met at a Latino elected officials conference a few years ago. In fact, a top Taveras official was dishing out the food at Blackstone Falls that day and others in the administration have campaigned for him.
His opponent, former city police Chief Joseph Moran says said Diossa is too young and inexperienced to be mayor.
Hummel: ``Do you take offense when people say you're too young or too inexperienced to be the mayor.''
Diossa: ``I've been a councilman for three years, I have all the energy, I have passion, I have a lot of ideas that I can bring to the table. Mostly importantly I want to serve the constituency and lead the city forward and I know I can do it.''
In his first race for council in 2009, he picked off a popular incumbent and ally of Mayor Moreau's.
Diossa: ``I had a very grass roots campaign. I knocked on every single door in my ward I believe my hard work paid off.''
Diossa has taken a leave from his job at the College Crusade of Rhode Island to campaign full-time and has been going door-to-door across the city.
Hummel: ``As you go to forums, as you go to elderly high rises, as you go door to door, what are you hearing from the people of Central Falls?''
Diossa: ``You know people talk about the painful past but they have hope of a brighter future.
And the message I have and the idea that I want to bring forward, you know create that hope once again. They believe the city can be great once again and I know it can be.''
He has heard the talk about merger Central Falls with other communities.
Hummel: ``What is your reaction when people say `You know, just dissolve it. Merge it with something else. It's one square mile, why do we need a separate government for Central Falls?' What is your reaction to that?''
Diossa: ``I grew up in this city. I love this city. It's done so much for my family and for myself. Ultimately I think of the 19 plus thousand residents that live here. Hard working people who also have that same pride. I believe the opportunities are here. I know the city has a lot of potential. It just needs a true leader to lead that city forward.''
Should he become the next mayor the president of the city council, William Benson - a staunch supporter of the former mayor's - was quoted in a recent newspaper article saying: don't expect any help from him.
Hummel: (reading from paper) ```I'm not helping that kid with anything.' What did you think when you read that?''
Diossa: ``I read it, you know what, at the end of the day I'm going to work with everyone. I can't do this alone. I need everyone's support to move this city forward.''
A politician who is unwavering in his effort to take the high road and to look ahead.
Diossa: ``I've talked to small business owners and they say you know what? Central Falls is great city. It's close to (Route) 95, but we don't trust the government there. And that's important. People are not going to invest in government if they don't trust in it. That's a priority to for me.''
In Central Falls, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.