Penalosa Wins Bogota Mayor Vote With Zero Tolerance Crime Pledge

  • New Mayor to take over from former Marxist rebel Petro
  • Allies of former President Uribe defeated in Bogota, Medellin

Duke University-educated economist Enrique Penalosa won the election for Bogota Mayor pledging to crack down on crime and improve the Colombian capital’s chaotic transport system.

Penalosa, 61, won 33.1 percent of the 2.8 million votes cast, compared to 28.5 percent for Rafael Pardo, who served in the government of President Juan Manuel Santos as Labor Minister. Former Vice President Francisco Santos, an ally of ex-President Alvaro Uribe, got 12 percent of the vote.

“We are going to resolve the urgent topics in security, transport and health care,” and recover the city’s civic pride, Penalosa said in a speech following his victory.

Penalosa will take over from outgoing Mayor Gustavo Petro on Jan. 1. Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla who banned cars in parts of the city center, tried to improve life for the homeless and outlawed bull-fighting, oversaw worsening transport overcrowding and crime during his time in office.

Clara Lopez of the Democratic Pole party, which advocates many of the same policies as Petro, got 18.3 percent of the vote.

Twenty-five percent of Bogota residents say they were victims of theft or assault in 2013, according to a survey by the National Statistics Agency, up from 22 percent in the previous survey. By that measure, Bogota is the second-most crime-ridden of the 28 major Colombian cities surveyed, after Pasto.

Penalosa served as Mayor from 1998 to 2001, introducing the city’s mass transit bus network known as TransMilenio, and 250 kilometers (155 miles) of cycle paths.

Much of the city’s crime takes place on the now overcrowded TransMilenio buses, where pick-pocketing and sexual assault are common. Penalosa, who often moves around the city by bicycle, promised more comfortable, rapid and secure public transport, and protection for cyclists and pedestrians.

Uber Technologies Inc.’s car-booking phone application should operate on an equal footing with traditional taxis, according to Penalosa. Bogota taxi drivers require a license, equivalent to the taxi medallions used in many U.S. cities, which trade in a secondary market, and are currently worth more than $30,000.

The U.S. State Department recommends that its nationals avoid public buses in Bogota, and warns them not to hail taxis in the street, which carries a risk of armed robbery and kidnapping.

Federico Gutierrez of the Creemos, or “We Believe”, movement was elected Mayor of Medellin, Colombia’s 2nd-largest city, beating the candidate from Uribe’s Democratic Center Party.

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