Can a 27-Year-Old Take a City out of Bankruptcy?

On December 11, 2012, Diossa won 62% of the vote in a special election, beating former police chief Joseph Moran who received the remaining 38% of the votes. Diossa's father, who would have been working that night, took a vacation day from work to stand proudly by his son-- the new mayor's--side.

When asked how his life has changed since becoming mayor on January 1st, Diossa, who is single, replied, "I get up at 5 AM and am lucky if I return by 10 PM. There's not a moment to waste." Though he said he's still the same person who likes to eat "empanadas" and "bandeja paisas" at his uncle's Colombian restaurant on Dexter Street, play a pickup game of soccer and just hang out with his friends.

James Diossa (right) playing soccer in high school.

But, can Diossa restore a city crippled to its core? Central Falls must sacrifice its future by literally paying for its past--with steep pension cuts and massive tax increases. Diossa's uncle, Cesar Zuleta, is hopeful but realistic. "It's going to take more than a year to get out from under this mess, no matter how you put it," he said.

Another underlying effect of a city in bankruptcy is the mass exodus that results from it. "A lot of my friends left for college and never came back and that was one of the reasons why this city wasn't growing," Diossa said. In May 2010, there were 174 city workers, a number that's since decreased over 30 percent. And while buildings and businesses may reopen, what's most difficult is restoring the public's faith in the system. "I have made strides but I am aware of the work that remains, especially in people realizing their voices are finally being heard. I am humbled by this opportunity. My priority is rebuilding Central Falls," Diossa said.

For many, Diossa represents newfound hope that the "City With a Bright Future" may once again live up to its motto. "Traditionally the 'American Dream' meant buying a home, a car, providing for your children, " said Cuervo. "But the fact that a son of immigrants who came here, worked hard to get ahead in life, sent their child to school... and that son then returns to his hometown, gets involved in a process to better its collectivity... I think that's the truest representation of the modern-day American dream."

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