Cliff Ponte kicks off campaign to oust Coogan as Fall River mayor

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FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — The race for Fall River mayor got serious Wednesday as City Council President Cliff Ponte announced he will challenge incumbent Paul Coogan in the November election.

Ponte, a real-estate broker, kicked off his campaign at the iconic restaurant Al Mac’s Diner on President Avenue, which his family owns. He said he would prioritize relief for taxpayers, support for small businesses, “a true beautification initiative” to spruce up parks and medians, and street repairs.

“We cannot continue to have government that is without direction or leadership — or initiative, quite frankly,” he said as a supportive crowd listened in the 90-degree heat. “A better Fall River can only become a reality when we demand excellence, require performance, and above all, lead by example.”

Ponte, 32, was first elected to the City Council in 2015 and has been its president for four years.

Coogan, who previously served on the School Committee, is finishing his first term after unseating disgraced then-Mayor Jasiel Correia in November 2019. Coogan told 12 News he plans to kick off his own re-election campaign on July 14 at Scottie’s Pub on Pleasant Street.

“My message is going to be continued strong leadership,” the mayor said. “This is no time to change horses in the middle of the stream. I believe that the city does not need a mayor every two years.”

(Story continues below video.)

The corner office at Fall River Government Center has been a revolving door over the last 14 years, with six different men serving as mayor since 2007: Coogan, Correia, Sam Sutter, Will Flanagan, Robert Correia and Edward Lambert.

Ponte is the third candidate to pull papers for a potential run against Coogan. The others are Jordan Silvia, who’s been an outspoken figure in Fall River politics for a number of years, as well as Jonathan James Albernaz, according to the city elections office.

Coogan was the only one of the four candidates who had returned his nomination papers as of Wednesday afternoon. All candidates for municipal office in Fall River have until July 21 to obtain papers and must submit them by July 23.

If more than two candidates qualify for the mayor’s race, a preliminary election will be held on Sept. 21, with the general municipal election on Nov. 2.

The Fall River race will likely be the most high-profile municipal election in Bristol County this fall, since New Bedford doesn’t have a race for mayor for the first time after switching to four-year terms in 2019. (The incumbent in New Bedford, Jon Mitchell, will be up for re-election in 2023.)

Taunton has a first-term mayor, Shaunna O’Connell, who has already pulled papers to run for re-election. The city clerk’s office said O’Connell was the only candidate who has filed as of mid-May, but had not responded to a request for an update as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.

In Attleboro, two-term incumbent mayor Paul Heroux has drawn two potential challengers so far: retired state trooper Todd McGhee and former City Council candidate Jim Poore.

The deadline to file for mayor in both Taunton and Attleboro is Aug. 3.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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