Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky is a rarity in Eastern Europe. Once a pro-democracy agitator, he strode into power after the collapse of communism along with scores of former dissidents and intellectuals across the region. Most failed as politicians, victims of their own idealism or ineptitude. But Demszky, 48, is now in his third four-year term. Popular among voters, he runs a booming, well-managed city.
Demszky understands that business doesn't want more from government. It wants less. Tellingly, he boasts not about how much his administration is doing, but that "a lot more is going on without our involvement." The capital has snared over 54% of the $22 billion in foreign investment that has flowed into Hungary since 1990. Citibank, Unilever, and Ikea are just a few of the multinationals that have set up shop in the city, helping drive unemployment down to a low 3.2%.
Because of his popularity, Demszky would seem destined for higher office. But his party, the Alliance of Free Democrats, lacks national appeal. So for now the mayor is setting his sights on another term in 2002. If nothing else, he doesn't want to hand over the $500 million in reserves he has built up by carefully managing costs. "I don't want to leave that to a successor so they can spend it on nonsense," he says. Yet another sign Demszky the dissident is still a player.