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In Populist Uprising, Sao Paulo Swears in ‘Brazilian Donald Trump’ as Mayor

In a rising tide of populist sentiment, Brazil’s two largest cities swore in mayors from outside the political class Sunday, underscoring widespread frustration with the establishment.

In the nation’s financial capital of São Paulo, João Doria, dubbed “the Brazilian Donald Trump,” took his oath of office on January 1. The millionaire businessman and former host of “The Apprentice Brazil” handily defeated his opponents in the mayoral election last October, drawing huge support from “the depoliticized voters dissatisfied with the political class.”

Doria achieved such an unprecedented majority, in fact, that it is the first time that São Paulo has elected a candidate in the first round of voting since the Brazilian redemocratization in 1985. Doria won the popular vote even in the poorest neighborhoods of the city.

According to Brazilian media outlets, the comparison between Doria and Trump is not without merit. Reports suggest that so-called “ordinary citizens” in Brazil do not feel represented by professional politicians, a phenomenon that is exacerbated by numerous public cases of corruption and a basic political disconnect with the rank-and-file.

Fed up with business as usual, residents of São Paulo turned to a man viewed as a successful entrepreneur and a political outsider untainted by the system. Moreover, Doria had achieved something his opponents lacked: contact with the common man.

Being wealthy, Doria is also seen as less vulnerable to the financial corruption of political office, an attribute that has also been applied to Donald Trump. And being economically successful, Doria offers citizens the hope of sharing some day in what he has achieved.

From reality show host to college professor and businessman, throughout his career Doria has proven to be versatile and to adapt to new circumstances and challenges—qualities that bode well for his term as mayor of South America’s largest city.

Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, senator Marcelo Crivella was also sworn in as mayor on Sunday, a second populist victory for the country. As an Evangelical bishop as well as a senator, Crivella ran on a platform of opposition to corruption as well as the tough financial management that the economically crippled city will need in the next four years.

Even before taking office, at 10 am on Sunday at City Hall, the new mayor enacted 78 decrees aimed at moving the city back toward solvency, severely cutting back government offices.

But Crivella’s electoral success was due to social issues as well, such as opposition to abortion and the centrality of faith and family, positions not associated with his opponent, Marcelo Freixo, a socialist.

“No, no and no to the legalization of abortion, no to the legalization of drugs, no to the gender ideology of our six-year-old children,” said Crivella in his acceptance speech following the election.

Despite their popularity, both new mayors have much work ahead of them to make good on their promises of transparency and effective management. Yet for the moment the citizens of Brazil seem happy to have asserted their right to self-government by electing men outside the system.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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