|Who will Bogotanos choose to lead their metropolus?|
Not many Bogotanos feel that spirit today. And, with more and more cars flooding the city, road construction everywhere and persistent poverty and violence, traffic congestion and crime look likely to just get worse.
So, the city's reached a key juncture. And, fittingly, Bogotá's voters face a dramatic choice for mayor: should they turn left or write?
The two candidates who are leading according to recent polls are ex-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, generally considered a conservative, and leftist one-time M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro. Ex-Senator Gina Parody, who is allied with ex-Mayor Antanas Mockus, might have an outside shot.
The good news is that all the leading candidates appear to be serious, principled leaders and not to be corrupt. And, neither Petro nor Peñalosa has campaigned using facile promises, as did current imprisoned Mayor Samuel Moreno, who rode to City Hall on a smile and a promise to build a metro. That's a pie-in-the-sky project which will take many years, if Bogotá can afford it at all. Instead, Moreno instead apparently filled his and his friends' pockets with public money from the TransMilenio expansion contracts - which are still far from finished.
|Petro promises free water for the poor.|
Some of the minor mayoral candidates - who, thankfully, have no chance of victory - are once again promising to build Bogotá out of its traffic tangles with a subway and urban freeways. Those are unrealistic fantasies for a mostly poor city with an exploding number of private vehicles. Bogotá should spend its limited funds on parks, schools, job training, law enforcement and improving public spaces, rather than expanding a road system to benefit primarily the minority who own private cars. And, the sad experiences of cities the world over which have bankrupted themselves paving themselves over to give cars room have shown that more road space only promotes more driving, quickly filling up the new space and producing even more monumental traffic jams.
Fortunately, both Petro and Peñalosa seem to favor demand-control policies such as a congestion charge, which would discourage unnecessary driving and would finance public transit. And both Petro and Peñalosa have demonstrated a willingness to pursue unpopular policies.
Bogotá and Colombia have the misfortune to suffer from some of the most unequal wealth distribution rates in the world, and lots of recent research has shown that this situation has a corrosive effect on a society. When citizens see an unbridgeable impasse between themselves and others, the poor feel justified in stealing what they believe society will never provide them, and the rich feel no obligation to make sacrifices for the less fortunate.
|TransMilenio buses: Peñalosa started the express-bus system.|
So, I think that both Petro and Peñalosa would, hopefully, probably, pursue positive policies for the mass of Bogotanos. I repeat: hopefully.
But the great difference between the two is their experience. Peñalosa has been a successful mayor, who has become an international authority on urban development issues. Petro, in contrast, doesn't have any executive experience except from back in his guerrilla days.
Voters should ask: With Bogotá at a crucial juncture, will its citizens choose a mayor with proven experience or select an unknown to lead them?
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours, which (full disclosure) has rented bikes to Peñalosa's campaigns.