Marcelo Ebrard, COP16 and the 2012 presidential election

Marcelo Ebrard
Marcelo Ebrard

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard must be feeling pretty large right now.  The Local and Regional Leaders World Summit 2010, which Ebrard hosted here in Mexico City, wrapped last week with a pact to reduce urban emissions signed by 138 mayors from around the world.  He may now rub his hands with glee for a few days before packing off to the 16th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP16), another international environmental summit to be held in Cancun, Mexico, beginning November 29.

Mr. Ebrard is gearing up for a run at the Mexican presidency in 2012, and his roles in these high profile international events fit perfectly into a subtle presidential campaign he has been implementing in careful steps for years now.  We are intrigued by what we consider to be a strategy most unusual in Mexican politics.  Traditionally (with the exception of Vicente Fox), obtaining the presidential nomination of one of the country’s three major political parties has required years of struggle within the party to obtain support of key leaders and block the aspirations of rivals.  Observed from the outside, this process has all the gravitas and dignity of monkeys hurling feces at one another in the zoo.  At this particular moment, the opprobrious clashes between factions within the PRD, Mr. Ebrard’s party, would make Machiavelli blush.  What makes Ebrard unusual is that, far from seeking out the headlines, he has carefully avoided visible involvement in the steady stream of flaps, frays and kerfuffles that make up political life at the local and national level.  As Mayor of Mexico City and a potential presidential candidate, he exerts considerable influence but behaves much like a crocodile, observing the mucky pond from hiding, his eyes just barely above the waterline, only to pounce at the precise moments necessary before submerging once again to observe from the weeds.  This game is particularly uncharacteristic of the PRD, whose modus operandi is practically based on the mounting of unseemly spectacles.  Ebrard rarely makes public pronouncements on internal party disputes or even participates in high profile party events.

Instead of bitch-slapping his rivals in the septic tank of local politics, Mr. Ebrard has focused on participating in international conferences abroad, talking up Mexico City’s ecological programs and making weighty observations on the future of urban development at events in Kyoto, New York, Bonn, Toronto and London, among many others.  These gatherings receive scant attention in the Mexican papers, but they have allowed Ebrard to build up bona fides abroad as a sober, policy-focused figure in contrast to the image of the Mexican politician more closely associated with characters such as Briagoberto Memelas and Juanón Teporochas.  In fact, Ebrard’s mayoralty has implemented a slew of progressive environmental programs in Mexico City, such as public bicycles and other bicycle-friendly policies, natural gas powered city buses, roof gardens, collection programs for spent batteries and cooking oil, a largely inoperable directive to reduce the use of plastic bags and, planned for 2011, the introduction of electric taxi cabs.

Considering the most pressing problems the country currently faces, such as the drug wars, the economy and the calamitous state of public education, programs to promote bicycle use may seem trivial by comparison.  And by spending so much time palling around with foreign eggheads, Ebrard runs the risk of appearing disinterested in larger domestic issues, or an odd bird at the very least.  But one might also argue that his favored policies have done no harm, which might not be said about the pursuits of many of the country’s other political leaders.  Whatever the perception, Mr. Ebrard will likely still have to dispose of his main rival for the candidacy of the political left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to have even a remote chance of victory running solely on the PRD ticket.  López Obrador, the veritable Benny Hill of Mexican politics, appears likely to run regardless of whether he is conceded the PRD nomination.  Such a scenario could potentially raise the prospect of Ebrard running as the candidate of a PRD-PAN alliance, forged, no doubt, with the assistance of the devil at the crossroads.  This idea, which would serve certain momentary needs of both Ebrard and the PAN, is unquestionably wild-eyed and certainly would at the very least render López Obrador and his followers apoplectic.  For now, we’re filing it under “never say never,” and not counting Ebrard out of the race.  The guy’s a crocodile.

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