Rio's mayoral race: A new 'Al Gore' for Brazil?

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes swept yesterday's municipal election. But some say his opponent could play a watchdog role as Rio prepares for the World Cup and Olympics.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters
Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes (top left) makes the victory sign while posing with his children after voting at the municipal elections in Rio de Janeiro October 7, 2012.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes swept yesterday's municipal election in Rio, winning with nearly 65 percent of the vote. In second place was Rio state assemblyman Marcelo Freixo, who won 28 percent of the vote. For those familiar with Rio politics, it wasn't a surprise: Mayor Paes is a popular incumbent who raised much more money than Mr. Freixo (around 14 times more), had a huge coalition (Freixo refused to create one), enjoyed much more TV advertising time than Freixo, and has support from the state governor, President Dilma Rousseff, and former president Lula.

Amid a construction boom with new government-funded hospitals and education centers, Paes also counts among his administration's accomplishments presiding over the preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. In addition, Paes won despite recent accusations of corruption – allegedly paying off another political party not to run for the mayoralty of Rio. Freixo also was at a disadvantage due to popular appeal; Paes is a seasoned politician, whereas Freixo – who comes from a background of academia and activism – is less accustomed to smooth-talking.

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Supporters of Freixo backed him, among other reasons, to support his stand against corruption in politics, as well as his famous opposition to militias and organized crime as depicted in Tropa de Elite 2. He's been critical of the mega-event preparations, saying during the most recent mayoral candidate debate: "We want the Olympics. But a city that's good for the Olympics must be good for the people who live in it."

He also stood up to Paes on the campaign trail, and is not one to mince his words. Supporters saw him as a change from the usual suspects in Rio government. Given all that he was up against, it's  impressive that he received nearly a third of the vote. It's also important to note that his party, the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), doubled the number of seats in the city legislature from 2 to 4.

So what does this mean for Rio?

From my perspective, it means Freixo is well-positioned to play the role that fits him best, given the circumstances: that of a watchdog, a critical voice who will try to ensure transparency during the next Paes administration, and the upcoming mega-events. As an activist who has worked hard to combat militias, there's still lots of work to do there. And given Rio's recent history with the PanAm Games and concerns about white elephants already emerging in the run-up to the World Cup, there's a long road ahead for the city. He's exactly the right person to spearhead efforts to see that the local government does what's best for its residents and not FIFA or the IOC. He's also the right person to work to oversee the city's preparations for the mega-events to prevent corruption and overspending.

Maybe he'll be something of an Al Gore for Rio.

Rio politics may not have changed dramatically yet. But with someone like Marcelo Freixo working outside of the Pálacio da Cidade, there's a chance that there will be more accountability and a push for more transparency, as well as a continued fight against organized crime.

--- Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog Riogringa.com.

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