Colombia: Capital Welcomes Former Mayor Into Office Again

by Associated Press /  / Updated 
Image: Enrique Peñalosa
Enrique Peñalosa celebrates after being proclaimed the new mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. Peñalosa was declared the winner by the electoral authorities with 99% of the voting counted.Fernando Vergara / AP

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa won a tight race to regain his old job on Sunday, handing a stunning defeat to Colombia's left that has governed the capital for the last 12 years.

Peñalosa received 33 percent of the vote in mayoral and gubernatorial elections held nationwide, besting former Defense Minister Rafael Pardo, who secured 28.5 percent, and leftist candidate Clara Lopez, who finished third with 18 percent.

Image: Enrique Peñalosa
Enrique Peñalosa celebrates after being proclaimed the new mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. Peñalosa was declared the winner by the electoral authorities with 99% of the voting counted.Fernando Vergara / AP

Peñalosa, a Duke University-trained economist born in Washington, is remembered fondly by Bogotá's 8 million residents for declaring war on the automobile when he previously served as mayor from 1998 to 2001, restricting traffic during rush hour, implementing a mass transit system and rolling out a network of bike paths that now stretch over 185 miles.

Voters returned him to office, after two previous unsuccessful runs since leaving office on Jan. 1, 2001, with the hope he can restore order to a city suffering from gridlock traffic and worsening perceptions of safety out of step with recent security and economic and security gains in the rest of Colombia. The mayorship of the capital is the nation's second most powerful position.

Peñalosa and President Juan Manuel Santos spoke earlier today. Santos tweeted about the meeting: "I met with Enrique Peñalosa, elected mayor of Bogotá. We agreed to work together for the future of the capital."

Bogotá was deemed to have the third-worst quality of life in Latin America, surpassing only Guatemala City and the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, in a recent ranking of 140 cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"We're going to leave behind the hopelessness, recover our self-esteem and remake Bogotá as high as our most-ambitious dreams," a jubilant Peñalosa told supporters after being declared the victor.

Peñalosa also took to Twitter to thank his supporters saying: "Heartfelt thanks to all those who gave me their vote. I'll do my best to serve my fellow citizens well."

Colombia's capital had been a bastion of the left in the otherwise conservative country. But the previous Mayor, Samuel Moreno, was removed from office and jailed on corruption charges and the current one, former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro, is preparing to leave office widely panned after four years of polarizing rule that also saw him briefly removed from office for administrative irregularities.

While the left lost control of what's widely-seen as the country's second-most important political office, a right-wing movement started by popular former President Alvaro Uribe fell short of expectations in its first regional electoral test.

Candidates backed by Uribe's Democratic Center party won in just two of Colombia's 32 gubernatorial races and lost even in the former president's stronghold of Medellin and the surrounding department of Antioquia.

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