Local elections 2020: Meet the top candidates for the Bucharest mayor seat
Political battles will heat up in the last months of 2020 when the local and parliamentary elections are scheduled. Romanians will first go to the polls on September 27 to elect new mayors and county council presidents. In this article, we're putting the spotlight on Bucharest, where 18 candidates are running for the mayor seat. Find below brief profiles of the top four candidates with the biggest chances of winning this race.
Most of the 18 candidates validated to run for mayor of Bucharest are backed by political parties (14), while four run as independents. But only a few of them have real chances of winning the race, and one of them is incumbent general mayor Gabriela Firea. However, things will not be easy for her, as she is facing an important challenger - Nicusor Dan, an independent candidate backed by a major political alliance. Other high-profile candidates are former president Traian Basescu and former prime minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu.
They all promise to solve the capital's biggest problems, such as the congested traffic, the pollution, the bad state of the local infrastructure, the lack of parking places, and the city's central heating system.
The local elections have only one round, which means that whoever gets the most votes on September 27 wins.
Gabriela Firea, 48, has been the general mayor of Bucharest for the last four years. At the 2016 local elections, she got 43% of the votes and became the first woman mayor of the Romanian capital. She is now running for another term, hoping to defeat Nicusor Dan once again, just like she did in the June 2016 elections.
Firea, a former journalist and TV presenter, is a high-ranking member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) - the biggest opposition party in Romania. She was born in Bacau, in eastern Romania, and has worked in radio and television before entering politics.
Gabriela Firea started her career in the local press in 1990 as a reporter at a newspaper in Bacau. The following year she started working as a reporter for a daily in Bucharest and then moved on to a radio station and the television. Between 1993 and 1999, she worked at the Romanian Television as a producer of economic reports, editor-presenter, and director-moderator.
In 2000, she changed the professional environment a little bit, working as public relations and image advisor to the prime minister and then Secretary of State and Government spokesperson. Next, she joined the Intact media group, presenting shows at Antena 1 and Antena 3 TV channels.
She became a member of the PSD in 2012. In December the same year, she was elected senator in the Romanian Parliament, a position she held until June 2016, when she won Bucharest mayor's elections. Within the PSD, she has held several top positions, including president of the Ilfov county organization and interim president of the PSD Bucharest organization. Her quarrels with former party president Liviu Dragnea cost her all her senior positions in 2018. However, the new PSD head Marcel Ciolacu wants Firea in his team: she was validated as first vice president of the party during the congress held on August 22 this year.
In the campaign for the 2020 local elections, Gabriela Firea is focusing her program on "putting people first." If she wins a new mandate, she promises to complete the Metropolitan Hospital project and start the construction of a new multipurpose hall and a concert hall. She also wants to start or complete several infrastructure projects aimed at easing the traffic in the capital, such as underground passages and bridges. Her campaign website is available here.
Nicusor Dan tried to get at the helm of the Bucharest City Hall before, in 2012 and 2016, but failed to see his dream come true. And the wait may have been worth it, as Dan has big chances of getting more votes than Gabriela Firea at this year's elections.
Dan, 50, is a mathematician and activist, currently a member of the Chamber of Deputies in the Romanian Parliament. He was born in Fagaras, in Brasov county, and moved to the capital at the age of 18 to study mathematics at the University of Bucharest. He also studied in France and returned to Bucharest with a Ph.D. in mathematics. Here, he helped create Scoala Normala Superioara Bucuresti, an educational institution set up on the model of the French Ecole Normale Superieure.
In 2008, he founded the Save Bucharest Association, aiming to stop the harmful urban projects in the capital, the deforestation of parks, or the demolition of architectural heritage houses. The Association got involved in many trials and won a big part of them, thus stopping several illegal urban planning projects.
Then, in 2015, he founded and registered his new political party - Save Bucharest Union (USB). The party gained popularity pretty fast. At the local elections in June 2016, Dan and Save Bucharest Union managed to pull an amazing surprise and get more than 30% of the votes, coming second after Gabriela Firea.
USB turned into Save Romania Union (USR), becoming a national player, and entered the Romanian Parliament in 2016. Nicusor Dan resigned from the party's helm in the summer of 2017, following a scandal within USR, but continued to be a member of the Chamber of Deputies as an independent.
He is now running for mayor of Bucharest once again as an independent but backed by a wide coalition made of the governing National Liberal Party (PNL) and the USR-Plus Alliance.
Nicusor Dan's campaign program includes a wide variety of projects, from turning Bucharest into a smart city with a well-developed mobility plan to solving the pollution issue and the significant problems of the city's central heating system. He also promises to turn Bucharest into "a regional business hub and a global hub for IT and the creative industries," to improve the citizens' interaction with the local administration and change the healthcare infrastructure for the better. His campaign website is available here.
Dan also launched the platform BucureștiUmilit.ro, which Bucharesters can use to flag problems in their neighborhood or elsewhere in the city. Thousands of issues were reported in only 24 hours, most of them related to the poor road infrastructure, uncollected garbage, lack of hot water, or the traffic.
Traian Basescu, 68, was born in Basarabi (renamed Murfatlar in 2007) in Constanta county. A former ship captain, he is a Romanian politician with a very complex political career: he held several top positions in the last 30 years, such as minister of transport, mayor of Bucharest, and president of Romania. He is now an MEP but has also joined the race for the Bucharest mayor seat after his party PMP (the Popular Movement Party) was excluded from the alliance backing Nicusor Dan.
A graduate of the Naval Institute of Constanta, Traian Basescu served as captain on commercial ships between 1981 and 1987.
He started his political career after December 1989 (when the Communist regime ended in Romania following the 1989 Revolution). He was Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Transport in 1990-1991, and in 1991 became minister of transport in the government led by Petre Roman. He then held the transport minister position in other of the following governments, until the summer of 2000.
In the meantime, he was also elected member of the Chamber of Deputies (a position he held between October 1992 and April 1996, and between November 1996 and June 2000), representing the Democratic Party (PD).
At the local elections in 2000, Basescu was elected mayor of Bucharest in the second round, defeating Sorin Oprescu by a slim margin (50.69% to 49.31%). The following year, he replaced Petre Roman as chairman of PD.
In 2004, Basescu entered the presidential race on behalf of the Justice and Truth Alliance (formed the year before as a more robust opposition against the then-ruling Social Democratic Party - PSD). He was elected president of Romania in the second round of the presidential elections on December 12, 2004. But his presidential mandate was not an easy one, and probably the most important event took place in the spring of 2007 when he was temporarily suspended from the Presidency. However, he was reconfirmed as president of Romania in a referendum on May 19, 2007.
He ran for a second term in the 2009 presidential elections and won. History was repeated, and Basescu was suspended by the Parliament a second time in July 2012. Most participants in the next referendum voted against Traian Basescu's leadership. Still, the turnout was below the 50%+1 required for it to be validated, and thus Basescu was reinstated as president of Romania. He kept this position until December 2014.
He joined PMP the following year, and soon after became its president. He was a member of the Romanian Senate between 2016 and 2019 when he managed to get a seat in the European Parliament.
He is now running for the general mayor of Bucharest seat. He promises to increase the quality of life and reduce pollution in the Romanian capital using EU funds. He also has several road infrastructure projects to improve mobility in the city, ease traffic, and make more parking spaces available to the citizens. His program also includes cultural and urban regeneration projects but also plans for the educational and healthcare systems. Further details here.
Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, 68, is the only one of the top four candidates for the Bucharest mayor position born in Bucharest. Currently the head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Romania (ALDE), he said he decided to run for Bucharest City Hall because there is "no other Liberal candidate" in the race.
A former prime minister of Romania, Tariceanu is known for his passion for cars. In 1990, he also founded Radio Contact, a private radio station top-rated in the '90s. He has a master's degree in Mathematics and Computer Science.
During his political career, he occupied several top public offices, such as minister, MP, or Senate president, but probably most Romanians remember him as a former prime minister of Romania. The acting leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL) at that time, Tariceanu was appointed prime minister in December 2004, not long after Traian Basescu was elected president (as PNL was part of the Justice and Truth Alliance). He became the first Liberal prime minister of Romania after the fall of communism, and held this position for four years, until late 2008.
The Tariceanu government oversaw several significant reforms, both economic and political, but probably the most important moment was Romania's accession to the European Union in 2007.
Calin Popescu-Tariceanu left PNL in February 2014 and launched the Liberal Reformist Party (PLR) later the same year. Also, in 2014 he joined the race for president of Romania, but he didn't make it to the second round.
Tariceanu is now the president of ALDE, a party launched in June 2015 following the merger between PLR and the Conservative Party. After the parliamentary elections of December 2016, ALDE formed a governing coalition with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) - the big winner of the elections. This alliance was not entirely suitable for Tariceanu, as the changes to the judicial system adopted (or promoted) by the PSD-ALDE governments and the Parliament triggered waves of criticism and major street protests.
Now, as a candidate for the Bucharest mayor seat, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu invites Bucharesters on "a journey from Little Paris to Greater Bucharest." He intends to combine the modernization of the capital with elements of the old city. His program focuses on solutions for the heavy traffic in Bucharest, including the public transport (which Tariceanu promises to make it free), but also for the educational and healthcare systems, or the city's heating system. The ALDE candidate also promises to offer more access to green spaces and create new pedestrian areas, to support creative activities, or to set a new Municipal Police. His campaign website is available here.
The full list of candidates validated to run for the position of general mayor of Bucharest or for a seat in the General Council of Bucharest can be found here.
(Opening photo: CarolRobert/Dreamstime.com)