Monday, August 8, 2011

Mockus Leaps in!

Antanas Mockus wants to be mayor again. 
Antanas Mockus will join the campaign for mayor of Bogotá, El Tiempo reports.

Mockus has already been mayor of Bogotá twice before, from 1995-8 and 2001-3, and previously rector of the National University, Colombia's largest public university.

Mockus will be a strong candidate, because he's very well known here and has a positive, clean image. In his previous mayorships he did lots to expand public services and improve public spirit, for instance hiring hundreds of mimes to encourage drivers to respect traffic laws.

Mockus has run for president three times, the last in 2010, when he was the Green Party candidate and got plastered by conservative Juan Manuel Santos. Colombians supported Santos, who had been defense minister, in great part because they sought a strong hand to battle leftist guerrillas. Mockus, in contrast, was seen as a sort of eccentric intellectual. That's understandable: the man got married on an elephant in a circus and first caught the public eye by mooning an audience while university rector. Many Bogotanos may also question Mockus's dedication to the city  - he left both mayorships early, the first time to run for president and the second to take a year's speaking sabbatical.

As presidential candidate, Mockus was also vague about his goals, promising mostly 'change.' Hopefully, as mayoral candidate, he'll tell us his positions on specifics such as the city's transit mess, crime and other issues.

But Bogotanos might just go for a man they hope will raise the spirit of a city in something of a malaise due to high crime rates, a corruption scandal involving the current mayor, and seemingly interminable public works projects.

Enrique Peñalosa,
leading the race. 
On the other hand, voters may still look for a strong hand, such as Enrique Peñalosa, who was mayor from 1998 to 2001 and is known for creating the city's express bus system, called Transmilenio.

Because Mockus helped found the Partido Verde (the Green Party), he's likely to take votes from  Peñalosa, the Partido Verde's candidate, as well as from Polo Democratico candidate Gustavo Petro, since Mockus, like Petro, appeals to young idealists.

An August 1 poll by CM& Television put Peñalosa in the lead with 29% and Petro second with 20%. But a Mockus candidacy would garner 13% support, according to the poll, taking 4% percentage points from each of the leaders. Mockus' candidacy probably ends any possibility for a victory by Petro, who depended on cornering the leftist vote, while center voters splintered their support. The other three candidates are young and less well known, likely making this a two-man race between Mockus and Peñalosa.

Mockus' candidacy, incidentally, also shows the arbitrariness of Colombia's political party labels. Mockus is going to run as candidate of the Independent Social Alliance party, which until recently was called the Indigenous Social Alliance. Mockus is the son of immigrants from Lithuania. For his part, Peñalosa's Green Party doesn't have many environmental planks in its platform and is allied with conservative Pres. Juan Manuel Santos and ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe.

I hope Peñalosa wins, to put the city in order on issues like transit, public space and rational growth policies. But my money's on Mockus, because of his charisma and positive image.

Mockus may also get the sympathy vote: he's been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, altho doctors say it won't affect his intellectual ability for years yet. Still, his political career is limited.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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