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Politics

Brazil’s Sao Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas Dies of Cancer at 41

Updated on
  • Covas had been in treatment after 2019 discovery of tumors
  • Colleagues, other Brazilian politician praise Covas’ grit
Bruno Covas 

Bruno Covas 

Photographer: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Bruno Covas, mayor of the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, has died after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 41.

Covas died on Sunday at Hospital Sirio Libanes, according to a medical report. He’d been in treatment since 2019, when he was diagnosed with a tumor between the esophagus and stomach that had already spread to his liver. In February, doctors said there was new evidence of the disease. He was admitted to the hospital May 2, when he announced he was taking a 30-day leave.

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Bruno Covas, center, during the first round of the municipal elections in November 2020.

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Covas had served as the mayor of South America’s largest city since 2018, when Joao Doria left the post to run for state governor, catapulting his deputy to the top job. Covas was elected for a four-year term in late 2020 with almost 60% of the vote, beating leftist candidate Guilherme Boulos.

Several Brazilian lawmakers, politicians and former presidents posted condolences on Twitter Sunday morning. “Our solidarity with the family and friends of Bruno Covas,” President Jair Bolsonaro said in a tweet.

With Covas’ death, his deputy Ricardo Nunes, 53, a member of centrist party MDB, will become the mayor. A lawyer and businessman, he was city ​​councilor before the 2020 elections and is largely unknown even to Sao Paulo residents. Nunes said he will follow Covas’ guidelines and doesn’t plan to change any top personnel for now, according to an interview to Folha de Sao Paulo on Sunday.

“He had qualities to become Brazil’s president in a few years,” said Caio Megale, who served as Covas’s finance secretary and is now the chief economist at XP Inc. Megale described his former boss as pragmatic, a good manager, and focused on the job.

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Covas had an early start in politics, becoming secretary of his PSDB party’s youth wing when he was 17. The grandson of Mario Covas, a senator who also served as governor of the state in the 1990s, he credited his grandfather for teaching him to love democracy and to work to improve people’s lives. He studied economics and law at Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo and Sao Paulo University, respectively, and before becoming mayor served as state deputy, Congressman, party leader, environment secretary and adviser to governor Geraldo Alckmin.

As mayor of Brazil’s most populous city and financial hub, Covas spent most of the past year fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The city, home to more than 12 million people, became a hotspot for infections and deaths, pushing officials to rush to open new hospital beds and impose social distancing rules.

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The mayor, who himself tested positive for Covid-19 last year, temporarily moved into city hall during the pandemic to better deal with the crisis.

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Bruno Covas arrives to visit a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients in March 2020.

Photographer: Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg

Covas was born in Santos, a beach town about 40 miles away from the state capital, where he moved to when he was 15. He remained an avid supporter of his home town’s soccer team -- where Brazil legend Pele first played -- even attending a match in January despite the Covid restrictions that were in place. At the time, Covas responded that amid so many uncertainties about his life, the happiness to go with his son to a stadium had a “different feeling” for him.

Covas was married to Karen Ichiba from 2004 to 2014 and had one son, Tomas.

— With assistance by Aline Oyamada

(Updates with Bolsonaro’s tweet in fourth paragraph.)