From the August 2001 issue of World Press Review

Marta Suplicy: São Paulo’s Savvy Mayor

Tekla Szymanski, Associate Editor

Vibrant mayor: Suplicy takes on São Paulo (Photo: AFP)
São Paulo’s mayor, Marta Suplicy, 55, of the leftist Workers’ Party, just smiles when called an “ill-brought-up hussy” by conservative friends. Though she is rarely seen dressed in anything but a Chanel suit and lives in an elegant home, she knows how to communicate with the masses. The former sex therapist, who for eight years was the star of a local television program discussing sexual issues that made the right-wing “choke itself with indignation,” as the Paris-based L’Express observed, moved into politics when she turned 50. Last October, she easily won São Paulo’s mayoral election with 58 percent of the vote.

Suplicy “moves unhurriedly through the dirt paths [of the city’s shantytowns], and does not avoid anyone,” according to L’Express. “Never before had a mayor ventured this far into the city’s slums. Blond, elegant, vibrant, and full of joy, delicately perfumed, a transparent chemise under a dangerously V-cut vest,” she cuts a unique figure in Brazilian politics.

After decades of corrupt city government, Suplicy is promising a cleanup. Left-leaning with close ties to big business, her agenda is socialist: helping the city’s 2 million poor and 1 million unemployed, expanding the infrastructure, overcoming the recent energy crisis, and fighting crime—which in 1999 climbed to a staggering 9,000 murders (as compared with 661 in New York), turning parts of São Paulo into a war zone.

Suplicy has emerged as Brazil’s key candidate in the country’s presidential race scheduled for October 2002. Her media savvy will surely come in handy. “I love people,” she says. “Politics isn’t simply rubber-stamping paper and debating the budget; it is also trying to change people’s minds.” 

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