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"I have never thought about throwing in the towel," says Mayor Botella

Madrid Arena tragedy prompts cabinet reshuffle one year after City Hall switch

Mayor Ana Botella, after Thursday's news conference.
Mayor Ana Botella, after Thursday's news conference.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

When Ana Botella took over as Madrid mayor soon after Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón joined Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government more than a year ago, many questioned whether she had the voter legitimacy to head City Hall. Voters had in fact re-elected Ruiz-Gallardón, with 50 percent of the ballots going to his Popular Party (PP) slate. Botella was the second name on that list.

In an effort to play down criticism that she shouldn't be at City Hall, Botella promised to create some 150,000 jobs in Madrid. But instead unemployment has risen by 2.3 percent in the capital - more than 6,000 people have lost work since the 57-year-old was sworn in in December 2011.

"The slates are voted in their entirety," Botella said Thursday at a press conference in which she presented a new city cabinet team. "I never have thought about throwing in the towel."

Now her administration is haunted by the Madrid Arena tragedy, in which five young women died following a stampede at the overcrowded center during a macro-party on Halloween. Her deputy mayor, Miguel Ángel Villanueva - who knew the concert promoter, Miguel Ángel Flores, facing manslaughter charges - lost his job on Wednesday.

I decided to reshuffle the Cabinet after Villanueva resigned"

Botella played down Villanueva's absence from her new cabinet, saying that he had decided to hand in his resignation hours before she reorganized her City Hall team. "I decided to reshuffle the cabinet after Villanueva handed in his resignation," said the wife of former Prime Minister José María Aznar. While reports have shown that Villanueva personally knew Flores, no evidence has surfaced pointing to favoritism in granting the permits for the Thriller Music Party on Halloween night. And Botella emphasized this.

"I haven't lost my trust in Villanueva. He has been a loyal advisor who was able to oversee all of his duties with honesty and maximum effort. I treasure him personally as well as politically," she said. Madrid chief prosecutor Manuel Moix said that there was no evidence to charge Villanueva with any crime, including cover-up. But last November another city official, Pedro Calvo, the director of Madrid Spaces and Conventions, the body in charge of renting out city-owned buildings to the public, stepped down from his post after a judge targeted him in a preliminary investigation.

Another official, Antonio de Guindos, who was in charge of city security, and had also been blamed by the opposition Socialists for being partly responsible for the tragedy, will remain in Botella's cabinet but will only be commissioner for environment and traffic flow.

Security issues now rest with Enrique Núñez, the former commissioner for economy and widely seen as a rising star at City Hall.

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