São Paulo mayor touted as possible strong presidential candidate
Businessman João Doria aims to bring modern management techniques to Brazil politics Read next Brazil nut shortage after drought triggers price jump © Bloomberg Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Email1 Save YESTERDAY by: Joe Leahy in São Paulo It is late at night at the São Paulo municipal government’s head offices in Centro, the gritty old centre of South America’s biggest metropolis. Yet as street people and crack addicts begin their nocturnal occupation of the streets outside, João Doria, São Paulo’s controversial millionaire mayor, and his secretaries are still hard at work on their plans to revitalise Brazil’s financial capital and industrial powerhouse. Brought to power last October by a historic win in the city’s elections, Mr Doria paints himself as an outsider workaholic trying to bring modern management techniques to a political system gridlocked by corruption, “20th century” ideologies and money politics. A successful businessman and skilful marketer — he hosted the Brazilian version of US President Donald Trump’s former reality TV show The Apprentice — he is being touted as a possible candidate in next year’s presidential elections. “I always say that I am not a politician, I am a manager who has entered politics,” says Mr Doria, whose corporate demeanour is underlined by his smartly tailored suit and open-neck shirt. In a country that is struggling to emerge from its worst recession on record after 13 years of leftwing governments, Mr Doria is the first of what is expected to be a new breed of politicians riding the disgust many Brazilians feel for the country’s old political classes. Since millions took to the streets in 2013 to protest against government waste in the country’s hosting of the Fifa soccer World Cup the following year, Brazil’s middle classes have increasingly been clamouring for an improvement in the country’s poor public services, analysts say. Related article Brazil takes step closer to pensions overhaul Reforms infuriate unions but economists say they are vital to reduce retirement spending The involvement of politicians from across the political spectrum in a giant corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state-owned oil company, has only reinforced this trend. “The more important finding that emerges from all recent polls is that voters are very angry at mainstream politicians,” said Eurasia Group in a recent note. Paulistanos, as citizens of São Paulo are known, took to Mr Doria’s election promises of “de-statisation” — raising at least R$7bn by selling some municipal assets and offering others as concessions to the private sector or in public-private partnerships. Among the 55 assets being prepared for private sector participation are the city’s Formula One track and its main carnival arena.
He even wants to sell concessions in its 20 cemeteries. The industry of death, he says, is expected to be one of the most promising privatisations — every day 400 Paulistanos die. “Today this is a bad public service, poorly done,” he says. He has also reduced to zero a queue of nearly 500,000 people waiting for check-ups under a municipal health programme by paying private sector hospitals to take up the slack. Now he is trying to do the same with surgical procedures. “I don’t need to play politics to win approval. Through [effective] management, I have won recognition,” he said. Although a member of the establishment, centre-right pro-business PSDB party and the son of a former member of Congress, Mr Doria had never won elected office before last year’s municipal elections, when he declared his wealth at R$180m. An aggressive user of social media, he is sometimes compared to Mr Trump but says he prefers Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor, who he admires as a “manager”. “I don’t disrespect anyone who is elected democratically but I prefer Bloomberg — he is closer to my sentiments, my interpretation of democracy,” Mr Doria says.
Like Mr Trump, Mr Doria is not afraid of conflict. He angered artists early on with his “Beautiful São Paulo” campaign, in which he donned overalls and led city workers painting over some of the city’s ubiquitous graffiti. He insists that he is not against graffiti but “pichação” — criminal “tagging” of buildings with spray paint. The municipality plans to open a museum and a school of street art. “Graffiti and murals are street art, they are important and good and will be incentivised in São Paulo. But not pichação,” he says. The new mayor has also been accused of threatening freedom of speech by tracking down critics on social media and threatening them with legal action. But he insists this was reserved only for those threatening violence. Related article Lula and judge meet face-to-face in Brazil’s ‘trial of the century’ Riot police line streets of Curitiba as former president arrives for questioning “The threats are constant: to throw stones at my house, throw eggs, intimidate my family; we accompany these with judicial authorisation,” he says. Although it is still early days, analysts rank Mr Doria favourably for next year’s elections against other possible early contenders, such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the charismatic former president of the leftist Workers’ Party, or PT, who is implicated in corruption. Mr Doria has mounted strong attacks on Mr Lula da Silva on Facebook but insists he does not yet have presidential ambitions. “Let’s say that only time can decide that,” he says. “I was elected to be mayor of São Paulo and I have to concentrate on that.” Copyright The