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Aguirre, One-Time Rival to Rajoy, Quits for Personal Reasons

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Esperanza Aguirre, a one-time challenger to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, resigned as president of the region of Madrid, citing personal reasons.

Aguirre, 60, said while she was “allegedly cured” of a tumor diagnosed last year, the illness had influenced her decision to stand down and spend more time with her family. Vice President Ignacio Gonzalez will take over.

“The time has come to give way to younger people,” she told a televised news conference in Madrid today as she wiped away tears. “I’ve always said no one is indispensable.”

Aguirre challenged Rajoy’s leadership of the People’s Party after its electoral defeat in 2008, even as she stopped short of a formal bid. Aguirre has continued to pose challenges to the premier, pushing him onto the defensive in April when she offered to hand control over health and education back to the central government to help tackle the budget crisis.

“She is probably the best politician in Spain in terms of her skills,” said Ken Dubin, a political scientist who teaches at IE business school in Madrid. “This is good news for Rajoy.”

Aguirre, who survived a helicopter crash in 2005 and appeared unharmed in short white socks and high heels after a bomb attack during a visit to Mumbai, has faced criticism for cuts in health and education while her proposals to slim bureaucracy have won popular support. Her plan to cut the number of regional lawmakers was backed by 77 percent of people surveyed in a poll by state-run CIS in June. By contrast, 62 percent said Rajoy wasn’t doing enough to reduce bureaucracy.

Madrid’s Budget

Her record of running one of the tightest budgets of the 17 regions was undermined in May when unpaid bills in her state helped contribute to a revision in the 2011 national budget deficit. Still, Madrid has maintained its access to capital markets into this year. Madrid hasn’t said whether it will join cash-strapped regions including Catalonia in seeking a bailout from the central government.

Aguirre, a former culture minister, was also known for making inappropriate comments when she thought the microphones were turned off, including using obscene language and making remarks about members of her party. While she told reporters her proudest achievement was introducing bilingual public schools in Madrid, she was least proud of when she had “put her foot in it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma Ross-Thomas in Madrid at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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