CENTRAL FALLS – Declaring that “the sky’s the limit in this amazing square-mile city,” Mayor James Diossa launched his bid to be mayor for another three years on Saturday.
Diossa, who took his first oath of office on New Year’s Day after winning a special election, grasped the helm of the struggling city as it tried to free itself from the shoals of a difficult bankruptcy, under the storm cloud of his predecessor, former mayor Charles Moreau, pleading guilty to federal corruption charges and preparing to go to prison.
Diossa, the first Hispanic mayor in this city with a majority Latino population, used his announcement to boast of the city’s progress over the past eight months.
Referring to the bankruptcy, Diossa told about 75 friends and supporters at a Knights of Columbus Hall on Claremont Street Saturday afternoon that “Central Falls has emerged from that process stronger and more vibrant than ever and we are busy building a brighter, sustainable future for all our residents while ensuring that our city’s future is secure.”
Without mentioning Moreau by name, Diossa said, “when I became mayor, I found a city scarred by a legacy of corruption, cronyism and backroom deals…today, Central Falls has enacted one of the most comprehensive ethics reform packages in the state, and we are operating an honest, transparent and open government.”
In a speech where he sometimes alternated between English and Spanish, Diossa said, “We need to continue the momentum, the positive energy that is flowing through Central Falls. We need to ensure a sustainable, responsible fiscal, social and economic future for our city so that we never, ever return to those dark days of uncertainty and helplessness.”
Diossa, a Democrat running in a city that holds nonpartisan elections, got a boost from numerous Democratic notables.
He was introduced by Sen. Jack Reed, who said Diossa is “an enthusiastic, capable leader” who has “a very bright future and he is committed to the people of Central Falls.”
Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, whom Diossa described as his “mentor,” said, “Mayor Diossa has done a very good job in a very short time period. “He is wise beyond his years and he has shown extraordinarily good judgment.”
Tavares recalled when Diossa was on the City Council and refused to vote to ask for a court-appointed receiver, saying: “We need to focus on solving these problems ourselves and we are elected to lead.’ He’s the man to lead the city forward.”
“He’s one of the young leaders who really gets the big picture,” an enthusiastic Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said. “We’ve been having a lot of conversations about what we can do as sister cities and how we can make the improvements we need by consolidating.”
Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee praised Diossa as “a young spirit with a high level of integrity, very sharp, very smart, and he wants Central Falls to be a great community. He is focusing on education, he is focusing on public safety issues and finances. That’s the foundation of a community moving forward.”
Edwin Pacheco, former state representative from Burrillville and more recently chairman of the state Democratic Party, said, “James is a great example of what we need more of in this country. He’s a young, energetic committed individual who wants to give back to his community, and he’s making a difference right here in Central Falls. We need more folks stepping up to run for public office who can demonstrate what that type of committment means.”
In a brief interview before his formal announcement, Diossa said that in his short time as mayor, “I realize the potential of this great city. It needed a good, ethical leader to run it. I go to sleep and wake up every morning thinking about how we can better our city.”
Acknowledging that the city’s budget is largely locked in by the five-year plan blessed by the Bankruptcy Court, Diossa said, “my focus has been to expand businesses, bring in extra revenue that can be used for other programs or services.
“I’ve had a few months to govern. The (state-appointed) receiver left in April; we were able end that pretty quickly. Now I am asking for three more years to continue providing the best services to city residents, to continue open and honest government, continuing to make our city look clean and safe so people will be prideful again in the city.”
Diossa will be serving a three-year term because a recent City Charter amendment approved by voters will move the traditional off-year election to an even-year cycle that matches state elections. He said his goals for the upcoming term, if he is elected, include “fixing Dexter Street so it’s paved and presentable, focusing on infrastructure, economic development, jobs and education.”