CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) — James Diossa, a 27-year-old councilman, won a special election in Central Falls Tuesday to replace the former mayor, who resigned and pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge.
Diossa defeated former Police Chief Joseph Moran in the nonpartisan special election. According to preliminary vote counts, he won with 1,076 votes, or 62 percent, to Moran’s 650 votes or 38 percent. He becomes the city’s first Latino mayor.
Final results are expected Wednesday, according to the office of the state receiver, including the approximately 400 mail-in ballots and some provisional ballots.
‘‘It’s a great victory. It sent the message throughout the state that the city of Central Falls wants to move in a new direction,’’ Diossa told The Associated Press.
He said his first order of business will be to form a transition team and ‘‘get working.’’
‘‘The real work starts now,’’ Diossa said.
Moran, 50, said he'd left a phone message congratulating Diossa.
‘‘It is what it is,’’ he told The Associated Press. ‘‘I wish him the best in the new position as mayor of Central Falls, and if I can be of any assistance, I will.’’
Diossa will serve out the term of Charles Moreau, who resigned in September. He had the backing of much of the state’s political establishment.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, who had endorsed Diossa, also congratulated the mayor-elect, calling him an emerging Latino leader who is deeply committed to the city.
‘‘I hope is the first big step in our work to turn the page and put Central Falls back on the right track,’’ he said in a statement.
Diossa went into the balloting heavily favored to win. But he had said he was ‘‘not taking anything for granted.’’ He promised to bring a fresh start and a transparent, ethical administration.
Moran had touted his managerial experience at the police department, saying only he had what was needed to run the state’s smallest city, just 1.3 square miles.
The race to serve out Moreau’s term has been seen as something of a turning point in Central Falls, which was taken over by a state-appointed receiver in 2010 and last year became the only municipality in Rhode Island ever to file for bankruptcy. The proceedings were painful and expensive: Central Falls, a city of 19,000 residents just north of Providence, saw municipal layoffs, property tax hikes and pension cuts. A quarter of the population lives below the poverty level, and both candidates for the nonpartisan office said economic development is critical to the city’s survival.
While Diossa will sit in the mayor’s office, he won’t enjoy all the powers that come with it — at least not immediately. The mayor and City Council were relegated to advisers after the receiver stepped in, and the receivership will remain in place for now.
State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly has said the state intends to have a presence in Central Falls for several years to ensure local officials follow a court-approved fiscal recovery plan. There will be a transition back to local governance, but Gallogly has said that won’t take place until the mayor and councilors are ‘‘educated’’ on the plan and attest they will abide by it.
Moran’s supporters tried to tie Diossa to some of the unpopular actions of the receiver, including the tax hikes; Diossa served on a special receiver’s council after the regular one was stripped of its duties. Diossa’s supporters linked Moran with Moreau, who is a friend. Moran also sued the receiver after his police chief contract was voided, a case later settled for $75,000.
Moreau has acknowledged he accepted gifts from a political supporter who received a lucrative city contract to board up vacant houses. The supporter, Michael Bouthillette, also has pleaded guilty.
Central Falls residents Lois Lemire and her husband, Leo Dufresne, said they supported Moran because he’s a ‘‘big name’’ in the city and is more experienced.
‘‘I've known him since forever,’’ Lemire said. ‘‘He does right by everybody.’’
But Eddy Santos said he voted for Diossa because he wants new leadership.
‘‘We don’t want the same old politics,’’ said Santos, who lost his job at manufacturer Stanley Bostitch several years ago and is still unemployed. ‘‘I think we need a change. Let’s see what he can do.’’
Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, visiting Central Falls on Tuesday to discuss a new crime-fighting initiative between state and local police, said the city is on the rebound.
‘‘We’re on the right path,’’ he said. ‘‘We want to keep that momentum going.’’