By Dee DeQuattro, WPRO News
While most of the state is tuned out of politics and tuned into Christmas music and holiday festivities the state’s smallest and poorest city is still a political battleground.
December 11 marks the special Mayoral election for the City of Central Falls where Former Police Chief Joseph Moran III and city councilman James Diossa will face off.
Diossa is considered the favorite after winning the four way primary with 59% of the vote, that is 2,039 vote to Moran’s 627. But will Diossa be able to pull off such a high percentage in the special election?
Voter turnout is an issue for Diossa
In a city with a population of close to 20,000 (according to the 2010 census information) there are only approximately 8,000 registered voters and of that in the last election 3,900 voted. This 49 % turnout was a high turnout for small Central Falls who usually has the worst voter turnout in the state. In the off year election in 2010 only 32% of people turned out to vote for governor, in 2008 the first year President Obama was on the ballot Central Falls had a 59.3% voter turnout but up against other Rhode Island cities and towns the little city that could ranked 38 for voter turnout.
With the numbers for voter turnout so grim in Central Falls it is no wonder that Diossa says he is focusing on his ground game. It is unlikely Diossa will enjoy the same popularity he had in the General Election in a “special election,” right before the holidays. Central Falls likely expects about a 20% voter turnout but the city will still have 8 polling locations open. Ultimately with the prospect of low voter turnout the candidate who can turnout the most votes will win, so don’t count Former Police Chief Joseph Moran III out. He has a huge family and knows a lot of people in the city from his time as police chief and a lot of his supporters will turn out to vote.
Diossa has a strong advantage because he has support from some of the state’s top Democrats, like Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, but it is unclear if that’s enough to turnout a Central Falls voter.
To encourage voter turnout, Diossa wanted to add more polling locations however initially the CF Board of Canvassers wanted to cut the number of polling locations. Neither proposal was accepted. The city will maintain 8 polling places on the day of the election, which surfaces other issues: safety and cost.
Polling Places raise safety and cost concerns
The city needs to foot the bill for extra police detail in those locations especially considering that seven of them are schools. According to the Central Falls Board of Canvasser school WILL BE open on the day of the special election they will just be rerouting students. This presents a danger in itself. A polling location is a public area where anyone, including registered sex offenders (Central Falls has 12) and other criminals, will be allowed in. The city will try to keep students away from the voters and there will be additional police detail but it still presents a safety issue.
The final stretch for the candidates and Diossa’s Ground game
With the race less than two weeks away both candidates have been in the news, most recently, Moran who received the endorsement of former Mayor Thomas Lazieh. Lazieh lost his most recent bid for Mayor in the primary. Diossa has the endorsements of many top Democrats including Taveras, Senator Jack Reed, and former Congressman Kennedy.
Diossa’s focus on his ground game indicates that voter turnout is an issue that has not escaped the front runner. Despite his popularity during the primary, Diossa continues to campaign heavily in the area and on Monday evening he called in Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (the big guns) to campaign with him as Forand Manor.
Diossa used his focus on the “ground game” as a reason to opt of a Channel 12 Newsmakers debate moderate by WPRI-TV’s Ted Nesi. Instead Joseph Moran will appear on the program alone and Diossa will work on his ground game. Diossa’s campaign told the Providence Journalthat he has already debate Moran 3 times before the primary and is now focused on his ground game.
It is a relatively surprising move for Diossa to dodge the debate because he has made many public statements about his commitment to government transparency and openness.
Diossa is probably better off focusing on his ground game since it is likely that voter turnout will be an issue on December 11 and because most of the people of Central Falls will not be tuned into a weekend Mayoral Debate. Diossa and Moran both have a better chance of reaching voters the old fashioned way, door knocking and mailers.
So, Ultimately, Diossa has the right idea: the race will come down to voter turnout and get out the vote efforts and we will see in less than two weeks how Diossa’s focus on his ground game worked out for him. Until then: Merry Campaigning!