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Covas, Paes: the winners of Brazil's 'big two' mayoral races

·3-min read
The current mayor of Sao Paulo Bruno Covas (pictured November 15, 2020) was slammed with a nasty list of personal and professional crises soon after taking office

One is staying put at city hall, the other will make his return there, where he was the self-described "happiest man in the world."

Brazil's two biggest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both elected center-right mayors Sunday who know the job well: Bruno Covas and Eduardo Paes.

- Covas, Sao Paulo survivor -

Bruno Covas, the 40-year-old incumbent mayor of Brazil's biggest city and economic capital, was thrust into office in 2018 when then-mayor Joao Doria stepped down to run for governor of Sao Paulo state.

Covas, his previously low-profile deputy, soon got slammed with a nasty list of personal and professional crises: a cancer diagnosis, one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks in his city, and his own case of Covid-19 to boot.

Chemotherapy for the cancer in his upper stomach -- which spread to his liver and lymphatic system -- has made him lose his hair and grow thin.

But he has kept at his job. He even moved into city hall, installing a bed in his office when the pandemic led him to impose citywide stay-at-home measures.

The grandson of political heavyweight Mario Covas, a founder of the centrist Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) -- to which he belongs -- Covas has a powerful backer in his former boss, now-Governor Doria, a top contender to take on far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential race.

Covas fended off a fierce challenge from leftist activist turned politician Guilherme Boulos, a charismatic 38-year-old whom progressives had hailed as the new face of the Brazilian left.

- Paes, Rio's happy mayor-elect -

Eduardo Paes, 51, was Rio mayor from 2009 to 2016, presiding over the city when it hosted both the 2014 World Cup final and 2016 Olympics.

"I'm the happiest man in the world because I'm the mayor of Rio," he was fond of saying.

A fan of Rio's decadent carnival who embraces the city's laid-back style, he is the polar opposite of his opponent, current mayor Marcelo Crivella.

Crivella, a Bolsonaro ally and Evangelical bishop in one of Brazil's biggest mega-churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), proved to be an awkward fit for a city known for its beaches, nightlife and carnival.

No sooner had Crivella taken office than he committed the sin of snubbing "King Momo," the portly and jovial "ruler" of carnival, by failing to hand over the key to the city to him as tradition would have it.

Critics accused him of trying to kill the legendary party by cutting its public funding, and of threatening the city's traditions of diversity and tolerance.

His popularity also suffered over his management of floods and landslides that regularly hit the city, and for allegations his church was used to launder embezzled money.

By contrast, Paes's administration was seen as a golden period for Rio -- though there was criticism in retrospect of unkept promises and white elephants left over from the World Cup and Olympics.

Still, Paes, who ran for the right-wing Democrats (DEM), won in a landslide over Crivella, who he said "doesn't understand this city."

"Today, everyone in Rio can once again say that this is a city of diversity. It's a city that accepts and embraces everyone," he said in his victory speech.

mel-jhb/jm