Buenos Aires City Government Minister Jorge Macri wants to be the next mayor of the nation’s capital.
The 58-year-old, who went on leave from his post as mayor of Vicente López to take on his current role, is keen to put the controversy within Juntos por el Cambio over concurrent elections behind him and says he will support the opposition coalition’s presidential candidate, whoever it may be.
In a feature interview, Macri explains that he has “overdone” the requisites to run and argues that the capital must become a “bilingual city.”
A controversy arose when Coalición Cívica legislator Facundo Del Gaiso tweeted a request that you clarify whether you are resident in the City of Buenos Aires, a requisite for being a candidate. Is there any risk of your candidacy being impugned?
No, there is no impediment, I comply excessively with the requisites, otherwise there is no way I would have proposed running in the City of Buenos Aires.
I’ve lived more than 41 years in this city with strong links – my children were born here and I married Belén here last year. I attended three grades at the Washington School, living around the corner at Arribeños 1212. Then I went to St. Brendan’s College in Belgrano R, in front of Plaza Castelli [sic: one block from], a place with many happy memories. Then we moved again to Palermo, Libertador and Ocampo, when I was aged 13. When my dad [Antonio Macri, 1934-2002], who lived very close, fell sick, he asked my mum – they were already divorced – to move into the same building, so Dad lived in 11° “B” and we in 8° “A” Ramón Castilla 2871, where I continued living until I was 34.
I’m now living again in the City so I not only obviously comply with the requisites but I’m now linked to this city by a lifetime, a passion and a huge commitment which has only grown in almost two years of managing City Hall where I feel very committed to the citizens and also feel that apart from complying with the requisites, I have valuable administrative attributes.
Regarding the qualifications, is residence in the City of Buenos Aires a must?
It is indeed.
There is a difference between having a dwelling there and residence.
And you have it.
I have it and there is no incompatibility with the role of mayor. In fact, many Greater Buenos Aires mayors also live in the City because to be mayor you need to be domiciled, which is more formal than having a dwelling.
How do you imagine PRO’s PASO mayoral primaries ending up in the City of Buenos Aires?
I’m dead set on running because I have taken on a huge commitment to the neighbours of this city on the basis of everyday activity. When I leave here, I’m going to meet up with the president of the Centro de Jubilados pensioners centre, followed by a meeting with residents of the Agronomía neighbourhood. Many going there tell me: “I want you to be our mayor” – I’m committed to that and I will be a candidate and, if God willing and if the people accompany me, mayor.
I believe that the system finally chosen, about which there was much debate, is a system which will permit a comfortable participation. The single electronic ballot will permit our candidates a discussion in purely municipal terms because it will no longer be a question of which name [of a presidential hopeful] goes on top. When the people enter the polling-booth, they will be choosing their presidential candidate and list of deputies and then they will be going to the computer to elect which of us best represents this City’s needs. And I like that a lot because we will be able to discuss, consolidate and offer a proposal for the citizenry.
So you’ve changed your mind since saying that the system was complex and inconvenient.
I’d say that I continue thinking that this dual system will probably slow down voting but if analysed from the viewpoint of a candidate, the single electronic ballot, which we have already used in the City of Buenos Aires, is a good system. It worries me that people will take a bit longer to vote, which is what I said when the system was proposed.
So to what do you attribute so much noise over the decision of [City Mayor] Horacio Rodríguez Larreta to use this system?
The main discussion was over the lack of previous dialogue, which is not what normally happens in PRO, these things are usually debated. He had the right to take this decision without previous dialogue as mayor but these things are usually discussed in PRO.
[Ex-president] Mauricio Macri said that he regretted the mayor’s lack of teamwork, you’re referring to that, deploring not being consulted, not the method.
Of course, the method might be a matter of opinion, the lack of prior dialogue is uncomfortable.
Patricia Bullrich resigned the PRO chair last month in the midst of these disputes over the form of mayoral election using the word “disobedience” for Rodríguez Larreta. How do you think the relationship between them is as a result of this decision, given that at the same time she backs your candidacy in the City?
We now have three PRO presidential hopefuls – Horacio, Patricia and María Eugenia [Vidal], in any order you like – so there will be competition and that triggers tension and different points of view.
Patricia’s decision to resign the party chair seems correct to me because it was often said that she was using the party post for her own benefit. I did the same thing in [Buenos Aires] Province, stepping down as provincial party chairman last year. I still help out there because I have experience of BA Province and now that I’m not running there I can perhaps make a contribution with the wisdom conferred by distance.
I think we have to find mechanisms for lowering the levels of public confrontation in general. It seems to me that the citizenry has more of a right to be annoyed in today’s Argentina than the politicians because they are going through a rough time in a country with no road ahead, without receiving the everyday calm, welfare and future which they might expect. So we cannot add a spectacle of heavy internal confrontation to that civic anguish, above all when presenting ourselves as an alternative. And we all have to make an effort because we all at some time commit the error of saying the inappropriate.
To be supportive, I feel that Horacio invited me into the City Hall of Buenos Aires and I’ve been very honest with him from the first day. I came here with the plan of being a [mayoral] candidate, which I presented more than a year ago at a Cabinet meeting in front of all the political parties forming Juntos por el Cambio, telling them: “I want PRO to continue governing the City of Buenos Aires and I come trained and willing to be their candidate.” Horacio was aware of that but I also made it public. And I’ll leak something to you, when I came out of that Cabinet meeting, I realised that it had also been attended by a co-founder of PRO, [Education Minister] Soledad Acuña, who presumably had the same ambition. I called her afterwards, saying: “Sole, I hope you were not offended” and she told me: “No, not at all, I love everybody saying what they want, our grouping needs more of that.” Patricia, Mauricio and other leaders later expressed themselves [in support]. Now at the end of the day, all these votes are worth one each and if they are not joined by the votes of the neighbours [locals], you won’t win the election. And with this system there are sure to be many candidates and probably more than one from PRO. That does not worry me, what must be done is to dedicate yourself to conquering the citizenry.
So you think that there will be more than one PRO hopeful?
It seems to me that we are heading towards that, it would be desirable that it not happen but I’m not going to tell other candidates what they should do. I’m going to run, I’m committed to this City and the thousands of its citizens who tell me: “Don’t back down, I’d like what you did in Vicente López, come and look after us bringing your perspective, what you did against crime and on the shoreline with your firmness, the order we need in this City.” They see in me somebody to represent them and that’s what politics is all about. You can win or lose an election, what you cannot do is to stop representing.
Mauricio Macri recently said that he thinks that the [presidential] run-off will be between the Juntos por el Cambio candidate and [libertarian lawmaker Javier] Milei. Do you share that forecast?
It’s very difficult to know how an election is going to end in a country where the exchange rate and inflation break records every day and where the people’s anger is looking for a channel but also in hope of some certainty of managerial capacity. I don’t know, what is clear is that we share some of the ideas reflected by Milei. I believe in liberty and very much in private property, the need for the private sector to do well because that’s what creates wealth. I believe strongly in an efficient and present but not overwhelming state. Those are the banners which we brought to politics from PRO but today he [Milei] is probably expressing those ideas more clearly at times than we ourselves and our challenge is to recover that position. As I once told him, we’ll be competing to see who seduces the electorate and that’s fine – that’s part of the electoral game. I respect all the democratic political parties in Argentina and that competition brings out the best in us.
In Mendoza, for example, PRO has directly reached agreement with Milei’s party, you might imagine that to be useful in some district, specifically Buenos Aires Province, not only in agreement with [José Luis] Espert but also Milei?
I’m very respectful of each district. If an agreement is reached within that framework without placing Juntos por el Cambio at risk, I think that each province has to find the best alternative to beat Kirchnerism.
What do you think of the dollarisation proposed by Milei as the solution to Argentina’s macro-economic problems?
It seems to me that what we need, and there I also have something to contribute, is that apart from dollarisation, people must first get used to administering without printing money or running up debt. If we mayors have one quality, it is that we cannot print money...
You cannot and neither can the governors.
But the governors can run up debt, which the mayors cannot. So I learnt how to administer with the available resources over and above any tools like dollarisation. I’m not an economist and there I listen to those of us who know. What we need is confidence and prudent administration. We should think that Mauricio within a short space of time passed from having no funds to many deposits guaranteed by the Central Bank so that as soon as the confidence of this country is recovered, it has the capacity to get back on its feet and for things to make sense. I honestly don’t know whether dollarisation is the best tool or not, that’s a discussion which I leave to highly specialised people. What I am sure of is that if we continue always spending more than we have, this country has no future.
And if we do not understand that Argentina has to evolve new industries which add more value, we’re never going to be on the side of the creation of wealth. Agriculture is central but the City of Buenos Aires has no lithium nor renewable energy nor agriculture. What does the City of Buenos Aires have which is different? Human capital, that’s what distinguishes our people. We can export services and be competitive. That is what you are doing: communication which reaches the world and breaks barriers. The capacity to receive tourists with hospitality and affection.
That’s why I propose the need for a bilingual city. Now are we going to achieve that bilingual city by making all citizens plus the commuters from Buenos Aires Province go to classes? No way. But there is already technology allowing people to learn at least basic English so that a waiter can serve a tourist in English knowing 30 or 40 phrases and youngsters studying technology can take a specific English course so that they can sell their services to the world in technical English. And this seems important to me because we sometimes complain about the young leaving and we obviously suffer when they go. We have to get the young to work globally while living in the neighbourhood they love and being up to doing that but we have to permit them to bring in the dollars they earn abroad and give them certain assistance.
I would like to ask you for a final reflection on your relationship with public office and private work and why you want to govern this city.
First of all, I would like to kick off these final reflections with something I have not said before. Politics sometimes becomes very endogenous and there are people in the state who think that nothing is more important than the state. The state has a fundamental role in our society but the most important thing in the City of Buenos Aires is the private sector, also including non-profit organisations. Why do I make that distinction? Because the latter, including clubs, NGOs, cultural centres, etc. do as much or more for us as profit-making sports and culture or private businesses, whether big, small or medium-sized, a restaurant, a shop, a company marketing global services of audiovisual content or whatever. All of the above are more important than we are. I believe that is part of the debate in our political grouping. So what role should the state have? Because some of us think that if we have the money, we should be doing more things even if the private sector is already taking care of them. I do not think so, I believe that the state should focus on its central activities and responsibilities and stop smothering the private sector, which is what creates wealth and gives development its direction with the state acting as a help or a hindrance. Because too much state direction and presence and excessive controls when they are not needed take away that marvellous quality of private enterprise. And I continue to be in both hemispheres. I often tell the locals I remain a normal person because I have people who depend on me but not with your money, with mine. I know what it is to work.
You still maintain your PyME (small and medium-sized company).
Yes, tiny and I’ve downsized it because it takes up much of my time but it makes me understand how important the private sector is for Argentina, so I focus on it and make it shine. It is fundamental for every socio-economic variable of development and creativity. That is supremely important for me, a contribution I make. When in Argentina we talk about the lack of funding, that discussion always seems abstract because there is not enough money to go round. But some believe if they did administer a state where the cup runs over, they should do more. I believe that if the state has more than enough, it is my duty to return it to the private sector..
Concretely by lowering taxes.
Of course, lowering taxes and not occupying myself with things which are not my concern because there are others for that.
Production: Melody Acosta Rizza and Sol Bacigalupo.