MEXICO CITY -- Why is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador running for president of Mexico again after his politically damaging response to the 2006 election? Why isn't Marcelo Ebrard, the outgoing mayor of Mexico City, running for the leftist coalition instead?
For weeks, the question has popped up in the cocktail chatter of many residents of this progressive-leaning megacity.
As reported in The Times on Wednesday, dogged campaigner Lopez Obrador has moved up in polls but remains behind the front-runner with just days before voting.
In this scenario, gloom is rising among liberal Mexican voters who thought Ebrard would have been a more broadly appealing candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), and possibly even draw voters who might normally support the incumbent center-right National Action Party (PAN).
"Am I sad? A little. We all thought it would be Ebrard," said Javier Velazquez, 30, a Mexico City animator and filmmaker.
"Ebrard would have had the same power of Lopez Obrador but I think a lot of PAN people would have voted for Ebrard too," Velazquez said. "People who live in Mexico City know how Ebrard governs. The rich didn't get poor."
Crime has dropped in Mexico City under Ebrard's security policies, which are based on a network of 13,000 surveillance cameras. His public shared-bike program Ecobici has grown rapidly since it started in 2010. Earlier this month, he inaugurated Carrot, the city's first public shared motor vehicle program (link in Spanish).
In 2010, he was named World Mayor by the City Mayors Foundation, an independent think tank.
In November, however, the mayor was unable to pull ahead of Lopez Obrador in an internal poll that the two agreed upon to determine who would be the PRD presidential candidate. Lopez Obrador had been campaigning since narrowly losing in 2006, and Ebrard had only recently begun to build a national profile. (For political junkies, the drama is detailed in an extensive profile on Ebrard in the current Gatopardo magazine, in Spanish.)
On the campaign trail this year, Lopez Obrador has attempted to bring Ebrard’s political capital along with him, but the effort is hampered by Mexico's strict electoral codes. Citizens serving in public office are not permitted to campaign; candidates formally resign from their posts in election seasons. A campaign spot that Ebrard recorded for Lopez Obrador was deemed illegal by the electoral tribunal and ordered off the air.
But Ebrard's absence also highlights the ideological distance that exists between the two men.
The candidate has said Ebrard would serve as his interior secretary if he wins the election, a crucial post that oversees major internal matters in Mexico. The suggestion raises a host of questions about how that relationship might actually operate.
In many ways, the two men represent opposite poles within the PRD, said Dag Mossige, a political scientist at Davidson College in North Carolina who is working on a history of the party.
Lopez Obrador, for example, has said while campaigning that he'd put the matter of same-sex marriage to a national referendum vote. The proposal is not only "absurd" and hostile to the protection of minority rights, Mossige said, but it would also put Lopez Obrador directly at odds with Ebrard's record on the issue. He legalized same-sex marriage in Mexico City in 2010.
The candidate proudly proclaims he never took a trip abroad while serving as Mexico City mayor, while Ebrard during his term has taken frequent trips on the international circuit, including an investment-seeking tour last year to Kuwait.
The front-runner to succeed Ebrard as mayor, PRD candidate Miguel Angel Mancera, has said he'd continue to govern Mexico City with an international focus. Mancera, a beneficiary of successful stints for both Lopez Obrador and Ebrard in city hall, looks to clobber opponents in Sunday's election by at least 40 percentage points.
"We have two major components in the PRD; one is a movement, it's all about winning the presidency, the cause," Mossige said, referring to Lopez Obrador's wing. "The other part is more European, it locates the party in an international context, where politics is about gradual negotiations, and they are quite more democratic than the other side."
"And the party is really fighting between the two."
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard in September 2008. Credit: Mario Guzman / European Pressphoto Agency.