Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Trump Comparisons Shunned by Brazil Megacity’s Wealthy New CEO

  • Multimillionaire mayor hosted local version of ‘Apprentice’
  • Doria plans to raise funds through huge privatization wave

One of Joao Doria’s first feats as the new mayor of Brazil’s largest city was to scrub the graffiti from Sao Paulo’s iconic cable-stayed bridge that runs across its sewage-choked river.

Joao Doria

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

The problem is that the local graffiti artists take pride in putting their cryptic scrawl, known as pichacao in Portuguese, in hard-to-reach places.

Doria wasn’t daunted. Not only did he hire and train a team of cleaners to climb the 450-foot bridge, but he found a way to spare taxpayers the expense of the spectacular operation: he would call on his business pals to pick up the tab.

“The city has very limited resources, so one of our innovations is that we quickly sought out the private sector to help manage the city,” Doria, 59, said in an interview at the mayor’s office on his third week on the job.

Soap, Cars

It was one of many favors that he literally called in during his first days in office. Doria, who made a fortune with his events company and is known for having hosted the local version of The Apprentice reality show, has been picking up the phone and dialing his fellow CEOs to kick in. Unilever donated soap and shampoo for the homeless; Mitsubishi donated cars for road maintenance; paint companies are donating materials to clean up graffiti. He also wants to land jobs for 20,000 homeless people, a deal he’s negotiating with a union of cleaning companies.

Sao Paulo’s new CEO says the state should focus on the basics: health, education and security. For everything else, there’s the private sector, where he keeps many of his buddies. It’s the sort of dealmaker-in-chief approach that some might compare to Donald Trump’s, though Doria would prefer that they not. Behind his shoring up of social responsibility, many are asking what his friends in the private sector will get in return.

‘Nothing in Return’

The Octavio Frias de Oliveira cable bridge in São Paulo

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

“They get nothing in return,” said Doria, glancing up from the stopwatch he uses to time his interviews. The pay off, according to him, is an improved city. “With a better city, you live better, your families live better, and your businesses will prosper.”

Doria’s vision for the role of business in managing the city is seemingly boundless, as he looks for ways to raise funds after campaigning on freezing of bus fares and ending a lucrative industry of traffic tickets by bots that brought in more than 1 billion reais ($312.3 million) a year to his predecessor, Fernando Haddad. Haddad, of the ousted Worker’s Party, said in an interview that Doria following through on those promises would “open a hole in the budget.”

To solve that, Doria is bringing the private sector to the rescue. He wants to ride the new wave of privatizations, starting with two selloffs he says will rake in as much as 7 billion reais: the Anhembi event center and Interlagos race track (Haddad opposes the latter for its location in a region with water sources.)

Privatization Drive

Doria is also drawing up plans to offer concessions for management of as many as 100 public parks, a dozen municipal markets, more than 20 cemeteries, a municipal cremation company, the Pacaembu soccer stadium and a municipal funeral service. He added to the list two new ambitions: the city’s trash collection and the ticketing service for public transport. International bidders will be welcome, he said.

The Sao Paulo-born businessman’s status as a political outsider has him battling comparisons to a certain American politician. Breitbart News, the news outlet that was chaired by Steve Bannon until he left to run Trump’s campaign, recently trumpeted Doria’s January swearing-in as such: “In Populist Uprising, Sao Paulo Swears in ‘Brazilian Donald Trump’ As Mayor.” Doria claims a fortune of about $50 million – less than Trump’s $3 billion, but enough so to woo voters by turning down the mayor’s salary.

Business to Politics

Doria, however, has said he’s “totally Hillary.” His Twitter feed, a string of smiling selfies and self-help maxims, looks like Disneyland next to Trump’s endless stream of attacks on his critics. Doria prefers being seen as joining in a tide of managers-turned-politicians spearheaded by Argentine President Mauricio Macri – a former two-term mayor of Buenos Aires. Doria didn’t explicitly rule out a presidential run but said he’ll serve only one term as mayor.

“Trump’s election expressed the feeling of the U.S. electorate, which I respect,” he said. “But he’s perhaps too hard on some things, excessive, not very understanding, arbitrary, tough in relation to immigrants.”

Graffiti on a wall depicts Joao Doria and reads "This Is Not Art! Romero Britto Is Top"

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Doria descends from the Doria Costa family, an illustrious clan of wealthy plantation owners and politicians dating back to Brazil’s colonial era. His father, Joao Doria Sr., was a lawmaker until his mandate was revoked in the 1964 military coup. He fled to Paris; when his wife returned to Brazil with their two sons, Joao Doria Jr. studied business and took a job at a publicity company his dad once ran; his first job in the public sector was as Sao Paulo’s tourism sector on the recommendation of his father’s pal, Sao Paulo governor Franco Montoro.

Conflicts of Interest

Doria, who speaks four languages, built a business empire, which he handed to his 22-year-old son, Joao Doria Neto and economist Roberto Giannetti da Fonseca as he entered the mayor’s office. Luiz Furlan, a former development minister, will run his flagship events company, Lide.

But that hasn’t exempted him from the Trumpian problem of conflicts of interest. Lide, which organizes business events that often bring in politicians, sent out invitations offering a seat at a table with Doria at an upcoming event at 50,000 reais per seat, newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported Thursday. A spokesperson for Doria said there’s no restriction on mayors participating in events promoted by businesses.

Many of the mayor’s corporate backers are Lide members, including Philips, the company that installed new lights at the Octavio Frias De Oliveira bridge, also known as Estaiada.

One of the advertisers for his magazines was the Sao Paulo state under Geraldo Alckmin, the governor from Doria’s party who the mayor said he would support in a presidential run in 2018. Grupo EMS, owned by billionaire generic drug king Carlos Eduardo Sanchez, sponsored Lide events and bought magazine ads. EMS participated in the Haddad administration’s call for bids for Anhembi, the event center Doria now wants to privatize.

EMS said it’s studying whether to participate in the possible privatization.

Street Cleaner

Doria said the antidote for potential conflicts is “absolute transparency,” vowing to be open in the bidding processes for privatizations.

Pichacao covers the walls of a building in Sao Paulo

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

For now, he has been focusing on the beautification of the city, which started with a fresh coat of paint in the mayor’s press room. In a departure from the cashmere sweaters he wore prior to his foray into politics, he’s led the cleanup by dressing as a street sweeper and a graffiti cleaner, a spectacle that angered many residents in Sao Paulo’s periphery that consider pichacao an art form.

Luciano Menezes, the CEO of the World Trade Center tower overlooking the Estaiada bridge, was one of the business leaders who backed the iconic bridge’s cleaning. He said businesses will accept that they get nothing in return beyond contributing to the improvement of the city, or at least its image.

“It’s a symbol of the city,” Menezes said. “When we sell Brazil, we sell an image, so symbols matter.”

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