Nation sportswriter Dave Zirin interviewed Rio de Janeiro mayoral candidate Marcelo Frexio on September 18, 2012.
No matter the host city, no matter the country, the International Olympic Committee depends on compliance from local politicians to achieve its objectives. It needs to displace locals, a massive security apparatus and access to public funds. But there may be a “fly in the ointment” waiting for it in Rio for the 2016 games, and he is mayoral candidate Marcelo Freixo.
Currently there are eight people running to be mayor of this city of 6.3 million people. Leading the pack is the longtime incumbent, Eduardo Paes, who has fit very snugly in the back pocket of the IOC, not to mention the real estate and private transportation barons funding his campaign. Second is Marcelo Freixo from PSOL, the Socialism and Freedom Party. Paes is polling at 54 percent of the vote and Freixo stands at 18 percent in the field of eight, with no one else over 2 percent. But what matters when the polls close on October 7 is whether Paes finishes at under 50 percent. Then he would face Freixo in a one-on-one runoff with equal television time mandated by law. Paes’s financial advantage, which is thirty times Freixo’s, would be blunted. It would become a battle of grassroots enthusiasm and on that score, based on the rallies I’ve attended and posters in the favelas, Freixo could win. This would prompt a massive change in Rio’s Olympic agenda.
The October 7 elections may not attract the eyes of the world, but they have captured the nervous attention of Lausanne, Switzerland, and the IOC. They’re right to be nervous. As Freixo says, “They don’t want [to deal with] a mayor. They want a functionary.”
Freixo is 45 years old but appears ten years younger, topped by a thick head of dark hair without a hint of gray. He’s a state assemblyman, former schoolteacher, human rights activist and prison educator. He achieved renown by challenging Rio’s brutal private militias after they murdered his brother in 2005. Freixo speaks with a scratchy, hoarse voice under hooded eyes, a sign of the 24-7 grassroots campaign that has him speaking constantly across the city.
Here we speak to Marcelo Freixo.
Dave Zirin: Why are you running for mayor and what do you hope to bring to the city?
Marcelo Freixo: This is possibly the most important election in the history of Rio. What’s being contested is the future of the city. Rio is on a schedule of change now that no other city in the world has and this calendar [this pace] is bringing very profound changes to the city. The hegemonic project that is being developed right now will create a more unequal city. In this context, I accepted when I was asked to enter this contest for mayor. It will be a very difficult fight, but it’s very important.
What is your assessment of the preparations for the Olympics and the World Cup here in Rio?