CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) — The sign welcoming visitors to City Hall has blue paint splashed across the bottom to cover part of Central Falls’ ugly recent past: Charles Moreau’s name was wiped away in September after he resigned as mayor and agreed to plead guilty to a federal corruption charge.
The sign should bear a new name soon. Two days are left before the election to replace Moreau as head of Rhode Island’s smallest city, which is struggling to put behind it not just Moreau’s disgraceful exit but a painful and expensive municipal bankruptcy that brought higher taxes, pension cuts and a stigma that persists.
The heavy favorite is James Diossa, a 27-year-old city councilman who promises to bring a fresh start with a focus on ethics and accountability.
‘‘The city needs fresh blood, a new face and new ideas. I believe I represent that,’’ said Diossa, the son of Colombian immigrants who works at an educational nonprofit for low-income students. ‘‘This is not about James Diossa. This is about really lifting the city up.’’
Diossa’s opponent is the 50-year-old former police chief, Joseph Moran, who says the city needs someone with experience — the kind he got while running the department. Moran, whose contract was voided by the state-appointed receiver who has run the city since 2010, warns that Central Falls is still in crisis, despite its official emergence from bankruptcy in October.
‘‘All they did is kick the can down the road,’’ said Moran. ‘‘Anyone can come in here and eliminate people’s jobs. That’s cowardly, in my opinion.’’
Diossa handily won a special five-way primary last month, with 59 percent of the 3,600 ballots cast; Moran came in second with 18 percent. Turnout was likely much higher last month than it will be Tuesday because of the presidential election and other state and local races, so get-out-the-vote efforts will be critical.
In some ways, Central Falls voters will be weighing in on someone who isn’t on the ballot: the receiver. Moran’s supporters accuse Diossa of being a ‘‘hand puppet’’ of the receiver, saying he will bow to the will of the state. Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly has said the state intends to maintain an oversight presence in the city for years even after it transitions back to elected governance.
Diossa served on a special City Council created and later disbanded by the receiver after the regular one was stripped of its duties. Critics have tried to tie Diossa to unpopular tax increases and pension cuts that are at the center of the city’s court-approved five-year recovery plan.
Diossa said he stayed close to the receivership so he could bring up residents’ concerns, including about the temporary closure of the library and the shuttering of the community center. Of the five-year plan, he said, ‘‘No one supports it. We have to follow it.’’ He said he would like to find new revenue sources and then roll back the tax hikes.
Diossa is much better financed and enjoys the backing of several of the state’s political heavy hitters, including members of the congressional delegation and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. Taveras, who became Providence’s first Hispanic mayor last year, said Diossa is facing the same criticism he disproved in his own campaign: that he’s not tough or experienced enough. He has praised Diossa’s campaign to bring ‘‘an open and honest City Hall.’’
On this Diossa and Moran agree: The future of Central Falls, where a quarter of the 19,000 residents live below the poverty level, depends on economic development. Diossa says there is already momentum that will bring further investment. One example, he said, is a $3 million renovation at Dexter Credit Union, which opened in Central Falls in 1948 and had considered moving out of the city a few years ago.
‘‘People still believe in our city,’’ Diossa said.
Moran said he would lobby multinational firms to set up manufacturing facilities in the city’s vacant mills and give hiring preference to Central Falls residents. He also suggests the state Economic Development Corp. help create new jobs through salary grants at companies that commit to keeping those positions.
Moran in August settled a lawsuit against the receivership over his firing for $75,000.
Angelo Garcia, who founded and runs the Segue Institute for Learning charter school in the city, said he’s nervous but optimistic that the election will bring better days. He wants residents to feel more ownership over what happens.
‘‘Traditionally, Central Falls is a community that has been poked at with a stick by outside parties,’’ said Garcia, part of one of the first Hispanic families to settle there in the 1970s, when he was 9. ‘‘I feel that it'd be good if people did things with us, not just to us.’’Continued...