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Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Rich "Apprentice" Host In Politics? But This Mayor Says hat He's No Trump

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Mayor João Doria of São Paulo, Brazil, center in white cap, helped plant a tree in the Vila Carrão neighborhood on Sunday. He took office in January. CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Before João Doria made the leap into Brazilian politics, he published a magazine called Caviar Lifestyle, amassed a fortune organizing lavish corporate retreats and wrote self-help books like “Lessons in Winning.”
And Mr. Doria, who is suddenly attracting media attention across the country as São Paulo’s outspoken new mayor, was host of the Brazilian version of the game show “The Apprentice,” drawing inevitable comparisons with another host, President Trump.
“I don’t need to be in politics,” Mr. Doria, 59, said in an interview. “I have my plane, my helicopter, my car, my home,” referring to possessions like his private Embraer Legacy jet, his Bell helicopter and his estate in Jardim Europa, where this city’s elite reside in gated compounds.
“But I like my country,” he said. “I like Brazil.”
Mr. Doria’s attention-grabbing tactics since he took office in January, casting himself as a wealthy outsider prepared to shake up Brazil’s political scene, are positioning him among leading new voices in a country tilting to the right before presidential elections in 2018.
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In just these few weeks, Mr. Doria has on occasion traded in his normal attire of tailored jackets, cashmere sweaters and Prada footwear for the uniforms of municipal street cleaners, gardeners and anti-graffiti technicians, and briefly carried out their duties — but always before cameras, turning the public appearances into well-orchestrated media spectacles.
Mr. Doria’s critics have denounced these moves as populist tactics conceived to distract attention from vexing structural problems in this sprawling megacity with a metropolitan population of 20 million. Still, the new mayor’s efforts have struck a chord among some voters.
“He’s off to a good start,” said Marco Faiock, 73, a cafe owner who voted for Mr. Doria. “Look at how he’s up at 7 a.m., cleaning the streets or painting over some graffiti. This is a guy who knows how to work hard.”
Some observers have begun comparing Mr. Doria to Jânio Quadros, the mercurial politician who during a brief presidency in the 1960s made the broom a symbol of a campaign to “sweep out corruption” and created a safari-inspired uniform for public servants.
When Mr. Quadros became mayor of São Paulo in the 1980s, he gained notoriety yet again for some of his populist moves, like personally fining motorists for traffic violations and outlawing skimpy “dental-floss” bikinis in city parks.
But Mr. Doria said he was not drawing inspiration from Mr. Quadros or even from Mr. Trump, whom he first met in 1988, when he interviewed him for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, peppering Mr. Trump with questions like how much he paid for his yacht. (His answer: $29 million.)
“Look, I have nothing against Donald Trump, but I don’t identify with him at all,” Mr. Doria said about the parallels between his foray into politics and Mr. Trump’s, saying he saw a model instead in Michael R. Bloomberg, the American businessman and former mayor of New York.
Either way, Mr. Doria’s rise to power in Brazil’s largest city, where he won in the first round of voting in October, is unleashing a fierce debate about his political strategies and varying concepts of gridlock, vandalism and freedom of expression on the streets of São Paulo.
Mr. Doria has hewed to some of the policies of his leftist predecessor as mayor, Fernando Haddad, like opening Avenida Paulista, the most prominent thoroughfare here, to pedestrians, street musicians and cyclists on weekends.
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Mr. Doria, center, has dressed as a municipal street cleaner, gardener and anti-graffiti technician, and briefly carried out their duties — but always before cameras. CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
But Mr. Doria is also appealing to voters who chided Mr. Haddad’s efforts to challenge the supremacy of the automobile as a mode of transportation in this traffic-choked city. For instance, one of Mr. Doria’s first measures was increasing the speed limits on some highways.
In doing so, Mr. Doria is emerging as one of the stars of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which had its origins in the opposition to Brazil’s military dictatorship before evolving into a more conservative group anchoring the coalition of President Michel Temer.
Mr. Doria has also moved to crack down on graffiti, drawing criticism after he had technicians use gray paint to obliterate murals done by artists just two years ago. Some here claim that Mr. Doria failed to distinguish between street art that livens up a city and pichação, the cryptic graffiti script that envelops buildings in São Paulo.
“Some graffiti in this city is art, pure and simple, and Doria can’t seem to grasp this distinction,” said Sônia Rocha, 51, an unemployed former public servant. “He might be a great manager in his field, marketing, but managing a city with millions of nuances, millions of problems, is different.”
Ms. Rocha called the mayor’s public appearances dressed as a street sweeper a “comedic” strategy aimed at softening his image as a businessman known for his love of luxury. “Next thing you know he’ll be dressed as Carmen Miranda during Carnival,” she said.
Responding to such criticism, Mr. Doria says his own path to riches and political power involved important challenges.
He was born into privilege as the son of an advertising executive who created Brazil’s version of Valentine’s Day, which is observed each year on June 12.
His father also went into politics but was stripped of his seat in Congress and forced into exile in France for opposing the 1964 coup that installed a military dictatorship. The family scraped by in Paris, selling possessions like artwork by the modernist painter Emiliano Di Cavalcanti.
When the money ran out, Mr. Doria returned with his mother to São Paulo, moved into a small apartment and attended public school. She was ostracized by her family, which disapproved of her husband’s politics, and eked out a living by starting a small business selling diapers.
Mr. Doria’s mother died at age 36, just months after his father returned from a decade in exile. Mr. Doria was still in high school. The official cause of her death was pneumonia, “but really she died of sadness,” Mr. Doria said, citing her struggles at the time with loneliness, ostracism and depression.
Mr. Doria worked his way through college, studying advertising and journalism, before embarking on a career as a host of television interview programs and an organizer of conferences where business leaders can mingle with politicians.
Despite his assertions that São Paulo and the rest of Brazil need an injection of market-friendly practices in politics, both Mr. Doria and his wife, Bia Doria, a sculptor, have faced criticism for relying on government largess to expand their wealth.
He came under scrutiny for obtaining about $500,000 in advertising revenue for his magazine Caviar Lifestyle from São Paulo’s state government, while Ms. Doria made use of a measure allowing corporations to write off taxes in exchange for investing in cultural projects, in her case an exhibition of her work in Miami and a glossy book about her career.
For now, Mr. Doria has largely managed to shift the focus from such revelations, and now often finds himself fielding queries as to whether he plans to run for president. He has repeatedly insisted that he plans to support São Paulo’s governor, Geraldo Alckmin, as a candidate for president.
Until then, Mr. Doria is laying out a plan to remain in the spotlight. He says he sleeps only four hours a night, donates his salary to charity and will not seek re-election in four years. “My project is about the here and now,” he said. “And I’m going to deliver results.”