Olympic opportunity - Games could be springboard for Rio mayor

Thu Sep 3, 2015 1:20pm EDT
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By Stephen Eisenhammer

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - With the president's approval ratings in single digits, Congress crippled by gridlock and party leaders across the board blamed for a recession, one Brazilian politician has at least something going for him: the Olympics.

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, a feisty 45-year-old fond of blue jeans, draft beer and hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries, is using the Olympic Games next August to burnish his credentials as a hands-on executive and raise his political profile beyond the seaside metropolis.

With little other good news to cheer them, people in this sports-crazed country are taking note of a man some say could emerge as a dark-horse presidential candidate in 2018.

"The Olympics can popularize Paes on a national scale", said Fernando Gabeira, a former Rio Congressman who lost to the mayor when Paes was first elected mayor in 2008.

Along with any upside, however, hosting the Olympics carries plenty of risk.

Much of the city at present is a building site as it races through a 38 billion-real ($10.1 billion) transformation to complete a subway line, highway extension, a light railway, a downtown renovation, and of course dozens of sporting venues.

And criticism already abounds because of polluted water at aquatic venues, forced evictions from slums in the path of construction and so-called "legacy" projects that critics say only benefit real estate speculators and well-off parts of the city.  

So far, Paes has navigated the obstacles deftly, dodging the blame for some problems - the state, not the city, is responsible for most of the water cleanup - and with others getting his hands dirty to ensure they are addressed.   Continued...

Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes (C) poses for pictures next to the Rio 2016 Olympic mascot Vinicius and current and former Brazilian Olympians at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 5, 2015. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes