How Rio’s mayor could dodge impeachment

. Jun 20, 2019
Marcelo Crivella Rio de Janeiro Marcelo Crivella

A couple of months ago, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella seemed like an afterthought. On April 2, the City Council decided to open impeachment proceedings against him in a landslide vote. The suggestion was that the three factors necessary to oust politicians in Brazil—a lack of popular support, a disgruntled group of lawmakers, and an economic crisis—were all piling up against Mr. Crivella. In 2018, he had escaped another impeachment request—but 13 councilors later flipped against him.

Mr. Crivella was accused of illegally extending advertising contracts without public bidding processes last year. Such contract extensions are common (although illegal) in municipal administrations.

The council&#8217;s investigation committee did consider the contracts irregular—but exempted the mayor from any responsibility. Instead, the commission established that civil servants were <a href="">responsible</a> for the crime—the political equivalent of blaming the intern for the boss&#8217;s mistakes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Although the report on the case exonerates Mr. Crivella, he is not off the hook just yet. The City Council will hold the deciding impeachment vote next week.  The mayor’s opposition, led by the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party (of which the late Marielle Franco was a member), will try to sway votes in favor of impeachment, but Mr. Crivella seems to have enough support on hand to escape ousting.</span></p> <h2>How to escape an impeachment</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Earlier this year, it seemed as if the three pillars of impeachment were set against Mr. Crivella. First, he doesn&#8217;t have much popular support. The last opinion poll on his government shows that 58 percent of voters consider his administration as either &#8220;bad or terrible.&#8221; While the poll is dated back to March of last year, Mr. Crivella has since done little to change public perception.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In February, the city has proven once again its inability to foresee the potential effects of torrential tropical storms—as common to summer in Rio as Carnival celebrations. At least six people died, thousands suffered power cuts, and landslides damaged several neighborhoods. It doesn&#8217;t help Mr. Crivella&#8217;s case that investments in flood prevention measures have been cut by 3.5 times since 2014. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The other two pillars of impeachment are connected. Rio&#8217;s economy has been crippled by the recent economic crisis, with unemployment rates rising 194 percent since 2014 and income falling by roughly ten percent since 2017. The lack of money hampers the administration&#8217;s investment capacity—and its ability to draw support in the council through horse trading.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But, as counterintuitive as it might seem, Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s overall state of crisis has actually helped Mr. Crivella turn his fortunes around. “Protests against the administration occurred before the impeachment process was opened. And the [process being analyzed by the City Council] didn’t have the public’s participation. Voters weren&#8217;t really attentive nor did they follow it closely enough to pressure councilors into going for the axe,” said Ricardo Ismael, a political scientist and professor at Rio’s Pontifical Catholic University.</span></p> <h2>New elections a no-go for Rio lawmakers</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since the beginning of the impeachment process, Mr. Crivella has worked intensively to whip votes against his investigation. The appointment of Councilman Paulo Messina to the investigation committee gave the mayor a reliable ally in charge of the probe, which has certainly influenced the final report, ponders Mr. Ismael. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But another factor comes into play. In May 2018, Deputy Mayor Fernando Mac Dowell died of a heart attack, which means that, should Mr. Crivella be removed from office, there would be no designated replacement. So the Speaker of the City Council would step in temporarily, until new elections take place.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Mr. Ismael, that has changed the minds of lawmakers. After all, Brazil holds municipal elections next year. In Brazil&#8217;s current political climate, the results would be unpredictable and the winner would certainly emerge as a clear-cut favorite in the 2020 election. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">We saw a similar thing happening last year in the state of Tocantins. After the governor and his lieutenant were removed, the speaker of the state house won the by-election and went on to win the general election months later. For political groups eyeing the mayor&#8217;s office next year, it could be a better move to let Mr. Crivella bleed out until voters go to the polls.

Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at [email protected]