Among the bank of opinion polls stored up by City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s team, they are optimistic. Of the country’s 10 most popular politicians, at least half of them are members of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition. And among the top five is a surprise face: Buenos Aires City Health Minister Fernán Quirós.
Among the numbers shown off by the youthful communications secretary, Federico Di Benedetto, to the Mayor’s Cabinet, Rodríguez Larreta is the political leader with the biggest difference between positive and negative image in the country. He is accompanied by other Juntos por el Cambio figures: Deputy Mayor Diego Santilli, former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal, Senator Martín Lousteau and Quirós. But there’s a crucial twist – the minister’s negative image is practically zero. Among anybody who has heard of him, he has a positive image. In particular, this is linked to the idea that he is “the family doctor who protects (us) against coronavirus,” say City Hall sources, discussing the qualitative studies.
Perhaps for those reasons, the good doctor is beginning to be floated as a possible candidate, next year or for 2023. Among his confidants, Quirós rejects the idea outright. His boss is on the same page: Rodríguez Larreta already told Perfil a fortnight ago that “this is not the time to talk about candidacies in the midst of a pandemic.”
Those close to the minister confronting the coronavirus say they had no idea he was even being measured by City Hall’s opinion pollsters. They say that he is not interested in anything beyond strictly sanitary issues. He is not keen on raising his profile. “I never wanted to be famous,” he is said to joke. “I never imagined it, nor thought about it, and nor is it something which interests me,” the minister told a small group of advisors recently, when informed of the surveys.
There is, however, one doubt – how much of that positive image is strictly linked to the pandemic and how much would stick if he plunged into party politics. “Loyalty” to Rodríguez Larreta is his only political slogan beyond the health sphere.
“Within the pandemic Horacio enjoys discussing statistics with Fernán,” reveals an official source in Uspallata, City Hall’s offices in Parque Patricios. While not friends, both share, in general, a similar approach to solving problems and think alike. Quirós is one of the few members of the City Cabinet capable of raising his voice if he disagrees with a chosen path.
Fernán González Bernaldo de Quirós, who graduated with honours from the University of Buenos Aires in 1987, is not a card-carrying member of any party, although he feels admiration for Radical “values,” in particular for late president Raúl Alfonsín, who was once even his patient. That was in the years when his boss at the Italian Hospital, Mario Cámera (the brother of Luis, now part of the President Alberto Fernández’s team of advisors) had become the personal doctor of the former Radical president, with Quirós looking after Alfonsín’s mother and, not infrequently, Alfonsín himself.
His leap into the public sphere was not easy – it came after over 20 years at the Italian Hospital, where he became its main reference for internal medicine. In November 2015, Quirós found himself with his friend Roberto Gigante, then-Cabinet chief at the City Treasury Ministry, at the bar Pizza Cero, just down the road from Rodríguez Larreta’s house.
“What would you do with health in the City?” the then mayor-elect later asked him. After listening to his explanation for several minutes, Rodríguez Larreta replied: “OK, we’re going to work very well together.” A further meeting followed.
Eventually, the Médicos Municipales medical association vetoed his entry into government. Quirós worked as a direct advisor of the mayor until 2019 when finally, he could formally become minister.
“I’m a free thinker,” he tells those with whom he speaks. He thinks he would only evaluate a candidacy “if it makes sense” and if he felt like it. Beyond his role as minister, he dedicates long hours to reading medical papers, to jogging, to his three children and (when he still could before Covid-19) to football, playing as a tough and tenacious centre-back. He certainly has backbone: although all nine of his siblings are River Plate supporters, he is the only Boca Juniors fan among them.