Meet the Candidates: Who’s running for Fall River mayor?

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FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — On Tuesday, Sept. 21, voters will head to the polls to cast their ballot in the preliminary election for Fall River mayor.

Incumbent Mayor Paul Coogan is facing challenges from three other candidates: City Council President Cliff Ponte, Jonathan James Albernaz and Michael Vandal. The two highest-ranking candidates will go head-to-head in the general election in November.

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12 News surveyed each of the candidates about their priorities. See their responses below:

Paul Coogan

Why do you want to serve another term as mayor?

I want to serve as mayor for another term because we have already made substantial progress on a number of priorities and there is a lot of work yet to be done. I spent nearly all of my first year in office navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like the opportunity to bring cultural events back, to be with residents again and to see my plans through as we make our way to the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. I believe that our administration has brought much needed values of transparency, stability and collaboration back to this position. We have built great working relationships with our elected officials, with our service providers, with our businesses and more. I want to continue our work together. Above all, I think that Fall River needs continuity and trust right now, and I can provide that for another two years.

What previous experiences make you well suited to be mayor?

After spending over 30 years as an educator, I have a unique pulse on the strengths and issues within the Fall River community. My passion has always been the people of Fall River, and I’ve spent most of my life and career being as involved in the community as I can be. My time on the School Committee prior to being elected mayor also prepared me for this role. But the strongest experience I have in my corner is the year and a half that I have already spent serving as mayor. I faced “trial by fire” within my first six months in office due to the pandemic, social unrest and a massive economic shutdown. I had to learn quickly, think on my feet and rely on a trusted team of colleagues. It was the biggest challenge, and the best training, I could have as mayor.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the city in the next two years?

There are many, many issues that we work on every day, so choosing just one is difficult. Public safety is a priority in Fall River and is one of my main concerns. Making sure our streets are both clean and safe is my ultimate goal. We need to make sure our police department has the tools they need to succeed, that we are being preventative in our public safety and that people feel safe in their neighborhoods.

What is a hidden gem in your city?

The city of Fall River is full of hidden gems. We have some amazing natural resources. People don’t realize that Fall River is 50% forestland and water, which make for great hiking and waterfront activity. Fall River’s waterfront district is currently undergoing massive revitalization. Another hidden gem is Fall River’s culinary scene, which is one of the most impressive and diverse in the region. It represents the melting pot of communities that call Fall River home. I truly believe Fall River is one of the most promising communities on the South Coast, and I look forward to helping this city reach its full potential.

Where can voters go to find more information about your campaign?

To find out more about me or my campaign, voters should visit electpaulcoogan.com or like my Facebook page.

Cliff Ponte

Why do you want to be mayor?

I’m running for mayor because the city needs a collaborative leader who has a plan for the future of Fall River. As mayor, my administration will utilize the “Good Government” assessment when making decisions. Good Government includes thorough research and analysis, strategic planning, performance assessments, accountability, transparency, streamlined services, and responsiveness. My goal is to provide our city with quality public services that is directly related to improving the quality of life for all our city residents. Our city needs a mayor who will require lean and competent departments.

What previous experiences make you well suited to be mayor?

My combined experience in the private sector as a successful businessman has translated well in the local politics. As a Fall River City Councilor for 6 years, City Council president for the last 4 years and acting mayor for 3 months in 2019 – I understand and appreciate the role of being a legislator and executive. My success as a local businessman and entrepreneur in the city will serve me well if elected mayor.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the city in the next two years?

Providing our taxpayers true relief and providing additional police on our streets. Currently our expenses are higher than the revenue we have coming in. If this was business, we would be “out of business.” As mayor, I will work over the next two years to provide our taxpayers with lean and competent departments.

My administration will reorganize and add more police and firefighters to improve public safety. In addition, my administration will work to improve academic achievement and provide free, full-day pre-kindergarten for all city residents.

What is a hidden gem in your city?

The Gates of the City. The Gates are a full-scale replica of the Portas de Cidade in Azores. The Gates of the City is located near our waterfront and centrally located. Considering half of our city population has Portuguese roots, this is truly a must stop in our city.

Where can voters go to find more information about you campaign?

Our website: cliffponteformayor.com

Jonathan James Albernaz

Why do you want to be mayor?

In March 2020 the government imposed a devastating lock-down upon the people of Fall River. This resulted in shutting down most of the city’s businesses; bringing the economy, and the livelihood of its citizens to a forced halt. Since then the government has continued to demonstrate its incompetence; opting for tyrannical mandates that history can attest as practices of authoritarian, and totalitarian regimes. The United States is a republic, which recognizes that individual, and inalienable rights are derived from Natural Law; and not an enumerated privilege granted by the current administrative authority. As the Mayor of Fall River I would not allow these mandates to be enforced upon the people. It is not the government’s business to dictate and regulate the private health status of our local police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other government employees. These mandates encroach upon our individual rights to bodily autonomy, privacy, and personal sovereignty. These rights are not granted to us by the government, but rather something greater; that of Natural Law; bestowed upon us by our Creator, to be held equally accountable by man. The United States is the world’s beacon, and ever-burning torch of freedom and prosperity. When dictators like Salazar of Portugal, and Communist Pol Pot of Cambodia oppressed their peoples; these oppressed people looked to Fall River as their place of refuge and salvation. With respect and pride to these communities, and others, Fall River must continue to serve as a torch of freedom from current and future tyrants. So, with this important reason, as well as the desire to ensure that all people of Fall River have the opportunity to thrive in an ever-prosperous future, I am running to be the next Mayor of Fall River.

What previous experiences make you well suited to be mayor?

First and foremost, I am not a politician. I (Jonathan James Albernaz) was born and raised in Fall River. I am a graduate from Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, specializing in electronics. I earned an Associate degree in Science for Computer Networking (Cum Laude) from Bristol Community College. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree for Network Engineering (Magna Cum Laude) from Johnson & Wales University. I earned a Master of Science degree for Computer Science (Magna Cum Laude) from Northeastern University. I worked in the professional industry as a technical support engineer, an escalation engineer, a network engineer, and currently as a senior software engineer. I am also an entrepreneur. I founded an Intellectual Property (IP) & entertainment development company called Punk This Studios, in 2014, where I currently serve as President. Through these experiences, I have become an expert in problem solving, a respected mentor, an educator, a researcher, a scientist, a director, a producer, and a leader. I am the kind of person that pays attention to details, and strives to always “do the right thing”, regardless of its difficulty. Through these experiences, I can provide a unique outsider’s perspective on running the local government better, more efficient, and most importantly, transition the city out of its current status quo stagnation.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the city in the next two years?

The long-term issue for Fall River will always be its economy. The unemployment rate for the city in 2018 was 5.8% compared to the rest of Massachusetts 3.3%. This rate is far worst than that in 2021. The big question that doesn’t get asked is why does this city grossly under-perform the state average? Why isn’t the city of Fall River doing better than the state average? Over the next two years, and beyond, one of my key focuses will be on improving the city’s economy in all possible aspects without raising taxes upon the people. Of these, bringing back Fall River Celebrates America could offer an immediate and positive boon to the local businesses and people of the city.

What is a hidden gem in your city?

This is a biased opinion since it is a family-owned business, but AJ’s Bar & Grill, located on East Main Street, has fantastic food. Their Portuguese steak plate is made with a ribeye cut, and sold at a very reasonable price.

Where can voters go to find more information about you campaign?

More information is available on Instagram and YouTube via “Vote Albernaz.”

Michael Vandal

Vandal’s campaign has not yet responded to 12 News’ questionnaire.

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