Sao Paulo's Marxist Mayor
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Mon Feb 5 12:35:56 MST 2001
Sao Paulo pins hopes on a star
Famous sex-TV host, now mayor of world's
fourth-largest city, has eye on presidency
Monday, February 5, 2001
Globe & Mail (Canada)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL -- She's a famous sex-television host, a Marxist from an
enormously wealthy family and mayor of the fourth-largest city on the
Dubbed the Hillary Clinton of Latin America by her opponents, Marta Suplicy
shocked the country in the 1980s by giving frank sexual advice on
television. Now the 55-year-old is being touted as a potential candidate to
become Brazil's first female president.
Perhaps it's no surprise in a culture renowned for its sexual openness that
Paulistanos, as Sao Paulo residents refer to themselves, would look to a
sexologist in a time of need. Still, it's a unique turn in a political
domain where old-fashioned machismo has long been considered a necessary
In the recent mayoral race, Ms. Suplicy's opponents tried to use her past
against her. One poster sponsored by her chief rival in the race read,
"Mommy, vote for someone who has never used drugs." Another showed Ms.
Suplicy marching with drag queens in the city's Gay Pride parade.
But Ms. Suplicy didn't run away from any of it.
"I am not the traditional political candidate," she repeated on the campaign
trail, and it paid off with voters tired of a string of traditional mayors
who had sunk the city into a morass of corruption.
She won a resounding 58 per cent of the popular vote in November's election,
with her biggest support coming from the city's poor.
"She works for the poor and she works against the ones who are corrupt, who
spend our money on rubbish," domestic worker Luciana Inchausti said,
explaining why she voted for Ms. Suplicy.
Some here attribute Ms. Suplicy's success to her Bill Clintonesque ability
to convince people she understands their problems. Others say she won on her
fame and looks, and because she was a woman after a string of terrible
mayors who were men.
Succeeding as mayor will be much harder than winning at the polls, however.
She inherits a city with a $10-billion (U.S.) debt, largely the result of
corruption in the civil service. The city's murder rate, now five times
higher than New York's, has quadrupled since 1995 alone, making it one of
the world's violent-crime capitals.
And while the city (which has an estimated population between 17 million and
20 million) has a modern, metropolitan downtown core, many of its residents
live in slums. A recent newspaper poll found 61 per cent of Sao Paulo
residents would rather live somewhere else.
A member of the leftist Workers Party, Ms. Suplicy's job is to somehow turn
all that around. Among her first acts of office were creating public
bathrooms for the homeless and finding writing paper, and toilet paper, for
members of her office staff.
"She is strong, but she has a big job ahead of her," said Sao Paulo taxi
driver Benito Gonzalez. "The last two mayors were so bad we needed something
Ms. Suplicy doesn't seem intimidated by the challenge.
In fact, less than a month after being sworn in, she has already made it
known that she has her sights set on an even higher position.
"I plan to stay in office for four years, and then, if things go well, be a
presidential candidate in 2006," she said in a recent interview.
Her ambition alone would probably be enough to raise comparisons to Mrs.
Clinton, the former U.S. first lady turned New York Senator, but Ms.
Suplicy's short blond hair and penchant for business suits do nothing to
spoil the image.
Add a politician husband who may get to the presidency before she does, and
Ms. Suplicy was originally pushed to enter politics by Senator Eduardo
Matarazzo Suplicy, her husband of 36 years. Late last year, just after his
wife won the mayoral race, Mr. Suplicy announced his own intention to run
for the Workers Party presidential nomination, in 2002.
He's considered a long shot, but if he wins, the country's constitution
would prevent Ms. Suplicy from succeeding her husband. To date, she has not
endorsed her husband's candidacy.
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