The Guardian

From city hall to president's palace?

Sept 30--Colombia has many innovative mayors with higher ambitions. It's a shame voters won't trust them with the big job

30 de septiembre de 2009

Few politicians are genuine all-rounders. Ted Kennedy underwhelmed as a presidential candidate but excelled as a senator; his brother John did precisely the opposite. Gordon Brown has amply demonstrated that the political nous of a chancellor does not necessarily suit a prime minister.

Nonetheless, as political transitions go, moving from mayor to president should be towards the easy end of the scale. Both are often directly elected, executive positions. What better proof that one can run a country than a successful period running a major city?

In Colombia, four former mayors would argue strongly that this is so. Their innovative administrations during the past 15 years have revived the once-dystopian cities of Bogotá and Medellin, to international acclaim. Now they are considering campaigns for the presidency.

The first of the aspiring candidates is Antanas Mockus who, as mayor of Bogotá, changed public attitudes on everything from jaywalking to tax evasion. Thanks to gun amnesties, alcohol regulation, and growing social intolerance, the city's murder rate fell by almost a third during his first administration.

Mockus's successor, Enrique Peñalosa, oversaw the construction of TransMilenio, a bus-cum-metro system that combines high speed and low cost. It became the first large-scale transport project approved under the Kyoto protocol's clean development mechanism for climate change mitigation. Then, in 2003, Bogotá's voters elected Lucho Garzón, an experienced union leader. Garzón became a rare leftwing success story in Colombia, promoting community dining-halls and urban agriculture under his Bogotá without Hunger programme and building new schools in marginal neighbourhoods.
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