The election of 23-year-old Jasiel Correia as mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, is a red flag that we need to renew our understanding of the wisdom of the great minds that have pondered democracy throughout the ages. All the way back to ancient Greece, observers have noted that democracies can be erratic and do harm to themselves and to others when they lose their bearing.
No matter who holds it or how the leaders gain authority over it, power requires its handler to have strong morals and common sense, and when the people elect leaders every few years, it is the people who must be moral and have common sense. It isn’t impossible that a 23-year-old could be an excellent leader of some municipality, but the specifics are important, and in this case, they raise more than a little doubt.
Fall River is a city of nearly 90,000 people with a budget of around a quarter-billion dollars. That’s why the mayor commands a six-figure salary. As for Correia, while he’s no doubt impressive among those of his age group, there’s nothing in his background that suggests preparation for the role of CEO of a $250 million organization. He doesn’t even have a full term as a city council member under his belt. He graduated from college two years ago with a bachelor’s degree in political science, so it wasn’t long ago that he was tweeting about missing class for weeks.
It’s as if voters think of their top executives sort of like an elected version of British royalty. Most of the power resides with bureaucrats and other elected officials, but the royal family sets a sort of national tone. If there’s an issue of specific concern to the royals, it’s possible they can force change. In Fall River, it appears that trash collection may have been such an issue.
If Wikipedia is to be trusted, Correia may be the youngest mayor in the United States of any municipality of comparable size. In most cases, though, the populations are minuscule — as low as 74, but mainly in the low thousands. In such cases, the mayor is likely to be more of a ceremonial position, and therein lies the hope for Fall River.
The city also employs an administrator and has a full collection of department heads. If the bureaucrats and council are good, effective leaders and work together, and if the new mayor has at least the common sense not to meddle beyond his ken, his age and inexperience might not matter much beyond his over-sized paycheck.
But the risks are huge when politically motivated game players, sly special interests, labor unions, and others are in the mix, all with incentive to manipulate a young man who still listed Nordstrom salesperson as work experience two years ago when he ran for city council. All in all, his election is further evidence that, even as we hand more and more authority to government, we don’t really take its operation seriously in this part of the country.