Three days into her new job, Madrid’s new leftist mayor, Manuela Carmena, has already confronted two internal crises and made one U-turn on her campaign promises.
After accepting the resignation of her new culture councilor, Guillermo Zapata, over racist jokes he tweeted in 2011, Carmena is now being pressured to dismiss the local government’s spokeswoman, Rita Maestre, who is the target of a court case over offensive behavior at a religious act in 2011.
When I accepted the nomination I said right away that I saw the program as a collection of suggestions”
Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena
Antonio Miguel Carmona, the leader of the Madrid Socialists – whose support allowed Carmena, of the Ahora Madrid bloc, to become mayor over the conservative candidate Esperanza Aguirre – said on Tuesday that nobody involved in a criminal investigation should hold public office until the situation is cleared up.
“I am not going to change my opinion: if you are being investigated, you have to take a step back and stay on the sidelines until a judgment is reached, and if it is favorable, then you can go back to your position,” said Carmona, who refrained from naming Maestre specifically.
Madrid prosecutors want a one-year prison sentence for Maestre for participating in a 2011 protest at the Catholic chapel on the campus of Complutense University. According to their written accusation, she and other individuals burst into the chapel “guided by the desire to offend the religious sentiment of those present and of the entire Catholic community.” They began screaming and waving images of the Pope with a superimposed swastika, then Maestre and other women allegedly removed their clothes from the waist up, and yelled: “We’re going to burn down the Episcopal Conference!” and: “Get your rosaries out of our ovaries!”
No public bank
Meanwhile, the mayor on Tuesday admitted that there is no need to create a municipal public bank, even though this was one of Ahora Madrid’s proposals to bolster the city’s financial self-sufficiency and “serve as a tool to fund social, business and cooperative projects to boost the productive economy.”
A report by the Tax Agency, to which EL PAÍS has had access, had vigorously criticized the notion of a public bank, saying it would require “between €10 billion and €20 billion” when the municipal budget is under €4.4 billion. Tax experts also noted that the city lacks the powers to create such an institution, and would require permission from the European Central Bank.
Manuela Carmena said on Tuesday that the campaign promises her bloc ran on should not be taken literally.
“Ahora Madrid’s program was built up slowly and included many suggestions; when I accepted the nomination I said right away that I saw [the program] as a collection of suggestions, but that not all of them should be taken as items of active programmatic involvement,” she told the news agency Europa Press.
“I really insisted on talking about the big objectives. After that, some measures will be carried out, or not, because the important thing is for them to adjust to goals such as equality, anti-corruption and transparency,” said Carmena, a 71-year-old retired judge with no prior experience in politics.
The new mayor confirmed that the city will continue to honor its debt and meet its payment deadlines, allaying fears of an imminent default that would sink the city and the country into poverty, according to the Tax Agency report.
“After that, we’ll have to see if we can reach agreements with the lenders, some kind of compensation, we’ll see,” she said. “Depending a bit on the situation, we can seek alternatives to write-offs, we’ll see as we go along, we need to talk to the technicians.”
For now, the new government is focusing on the issues of housing and other basic needs. Early on Tuesday, two councilors from Carmena’s team got involved in a street protest against the eviction of a woman who was about to lose her home over an unpaid loan of €50,000 that ballooned to €150,000 because of late fees.
The local government’s action resulted in a three-week stay on the eviction of Amparo, a divorced 57-year-old woman with a 24-year-old son.
The move mirrors similar action by Barcelona’s new mayor, the social activist Ada Colau, who personally phoned up two banks on Monday to postpone imminent evictions of low-income families in the Catalan capital.
Like Colau, Carmena has also promised to ensure that poor residents are not left without hot water and electricity in the winter months.
“Now we have focused on nutrition for children and home evictions,” said Carmena, who hopes to “exploit to the full” the city’s expenses, including the rent paid on government offices.
“I am visiting them and there are many things that can be made more profitable without the need to keep paying so much rent,” she said.
Esperanza Aguirre to step down as head of Madrid PP
Esperanza Aguirre, the mayoral candidate for the Popular Party (PP), does not wish to remain at the helm of the Madrid branch of the conservative party, which she has headed since 2004.
Aguirre, a veteran figure of Madrid politics who was regional premier between 2003 and 2012, will ask central party officials for permission to hold an extraordinary congress to choose a new branch president.
"The time has come for humility and responsibility, for politics," said Aguirre, who was the most voted candidate at the May 24 elections yet whose narrow victory was not enough to gain control of City Hall after the Socialists supported the investiture of Ahora Madrid's Manuela Carmena.
No date for the congress has been released yet.