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Eduardo Paes, our mayor who ends his second term in the coming Olympic year, sat down with Folha de São Paulo reporters last Wednesday. Paes knows the importance of communication. After the 2013 protests, City Hall organized three Google Hangouts so he could dialogue with a variety of citizens. But up till last week, it had been a while since Paes had opened up to questions in front of cameras.
Notably, he did this with a São Paulo publication, as we come up to a possible shortage of potential candidates for the 2018 gubernatorial and presidential elections, with many political careers threatened by ongoing corruption investigations. So far, the name Eduardo Paes is free and clear.
Your blogger has had several chances to hear the mayor’s ideas and positions. Initially, the sensation is one of having put one’s head into a centrifuge. Your brain turns to juice.
In other words, he is a top-of-the-line politician.
After a few more encounters, the senses may be recovered. So, how does the juicer work?
The trick is to occupy two places at once. He’s got dualities — and they interact, slicing up everything.
Our mayor literally occupies two spots at once, constantly reminding listeners that he was brought up in the South Zone and is also much loved in Rio’s working class neighborhoods. He cites areas his childhood buddies have probably never heard of. According to the mayor, the neighborhoods that saw the highest real estate value growth in recent years were Oswaldo Cruz, Madureira, Vaz Lobo and Bento Ribeiro. He was elected, as he said during the interview, by Rio’s lowest HDI regions, such as Santa Cruz and Guaratiba.
For a city as diverse and divided as Rio de Janeiro, such an exercise is a basic element of political life. So when Paes speaks with South Zone voters about the West and North Zones, his superior knowledge comes through — and is hard to challenge. His intimacy with the working classes is a tool to prove how much he knows about the city and its real needs. Doubting him can be tricky.
In addition to geographic duality, there is the trust/wiliness set.
Paes offers to take interested parties to visit notorious locations. About the Metro Mangueira favela, locus of a recent altercation, he claims that, of those residents who were removed — “they must all have voted for me” — none were were forcibly removed, that all the families now live in houses on the other side of the train tracks, in front of where their homes were. He explains that car repair shops stayed on, selling stolen parts, which are dangerous for the middle class (a reference to robbery knifings in recent months, sign of his concern for South Zone safety). Three shops were demolished, the mayor says, stirring up popular ire and a battle between police and UERJ students. “We have a project for an automotive area,” he promises. “I’ll take you there, dona Maria does up a great plate of beans.”
Bridge between poor and rich, he transmits authenticity. But then, when telling the story of how he got federal funding to build the Praça da Bandeira rain collection reservoirs, Paes takes on the role of the malandro, or trickster. “I literally ‘omitted information’, to put it nicely,” he confesses. He says he told then-president Lula and his chief of staff, Dilma: “Without the funds, Maracanã Stadium will be flooded at the Olympic opening, imagine the shame of it, around the world!” Then he switches to authenticity: “I didn’t tell them that August is the driest month of the year.”
Such talk is a perfect example of traditional clan politics. The mayor works hard to represent our clan in Brasília, going to the extreme of “omitting information”. We can trust him because the half-truth is own our behalf.
In putting himself in the position of a trusted representative who goes to battle for us, Paes feels comfortable about pointing out others’ faults. It’s all part of the same game. “Just as we invent stories, so does the opposition,” he observes. Thus, critics of resettlements/removals , of the Olympic golf course on the ecologial reserve, and other municipal actions may well be “crazies making up stories,” as he puts it, “demagogues” that don’t show up when mudslides kill favela residents — or plain cheaters.
Vila Autódromo serves to illustrate our mayor’s third set, humility/pride. “The only relocation connected to the Olympics is Vila Autódromo and there was not enough dialogue,” he admits, telling of how he personally took the situation in hand two years ago, when he became aware of the error (not his, we are led to believe, but that of others in his administration). Softening the pride, the humility contributes to his authenticity.
“We’re not taking everyone out,” says Paes, now combining humility with trust. “Only people in the access and environmentally protected areas. It’s worth seeing the houses there. There’s a judge’s son. There’s a helicopter hangar. The place we acted without respect was Vila Autódromo. Two years ago I personally got involved, I speak with the residents’ association president, I personally receive all the people who live there, I went to [the nearby] Riocentro [Convention Center], we discussed everything and now we feel a great deal of conviction about what we’re doing.”
When blogger Mario Magalhães asks about the location of the Olympic Park access area, which is what led to the removal of Vila Autódromo residents, Paes makes a point of distrusting his distrust. Magalhães says he looked hard for the access area but couldn’t find it (on the initial Park map, the Vila was to remain; it even won a prize for an urbanization plan developed together with local universities).
“I’ll show you later, just let me answer [journalist Mônica Bergamo’s] question and I’ll answer your FBI question, there’s no secret,” the mayor teases, subtly undermining critics’ suspicions that high rises will replace Vila Autódromo, post-Olympics.
Coming back to the question, having told the rainwater collection funding story, having boasted about hosting the cheapest Olympics in history (“unlike the World Cup”), having pointed out his work in removing families from mudslide risk areas (“of all the removals, all 22,000 families, 72,2 %, or 15,937 families, were resettled to put an end to this city’s plague of deaths every summer. The demagogues aren’t around when they die. I’m going to get rid of this city’s risk areas”), Paes finally describes the accesses to the Olympic service areas, and the services themselves — which include, he notes, the Media Press Center, where the journalists present may find themselves working during the Games. A hundred thousand people will circulate through every day, he says.
In this description, the mayor uses, instead of a map, his hands in the air. When he talks about real estate values, he’s got data on paper.
For those who’d like to see more information, Paes promises a new Internet site, where he’ll reveal and respond to his critics’ lies. He will also, he says, in response to a question about a lack of transparency, “look more at the contracts” of the 2016 Games.
“Allow Cariocas to look,” Mário Magalhães corrects him.