Larreta-Lousteau deal puts mayor closer to BA city reelection

20th June 2019

By Amadeo Gandolfo

Larreta-Lousteau deal puts mayor closer to BA city reelection

While all eyes were focused on the last-minute deals over coalitions and candidacies at the national level, President Mauricio Macri’s key ally in Buenos Aires city, Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, quietly secured a series of deals that put him closer to re-election.

Former Ambassador to the US Martín Lousteau came within a whisker of beating Rodríguez Larreta four years ago in an election that could have derailed Macri’s presidential hopes. Now, however, Lousteau has reportedly agreed to run next to Larreta instead of against him. If the deal is confirmed, Lousteau will run to represent Macri’s newly formed Juntos por el Cambio coalition in the Senate, where he would also be the favorite as he would face no competition from Macri’s allies.

On the opposition side, president of San Lorenzo Football Club Matías Lammens was anointed by Alberto Fernández yesterday. Lammens faces an uphill battle in a city where Peronism has always struggled to be competitive. But the absence of Lousteau makes him the main contender in the mayoral race, as Larreta also struggles with Macri’s declining support following the country’s 2018 debt crisis.

</p> <p>As well as agreeing with Lousteau, Larreta also sealed a deal with <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/con-criticas-al-sector-lavagna-roy-cortina-nid2257457">Socialist Party’s Roy Cortina</a> to join him. In addition, a potential competitor for Larreta’s votes further to his right, <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/politica/dario-loperfido-bajo-candidatura-ciudad-de-buenos-aires-dijo-no-quiero-que-pierda-gobierno-por-mi-culpa.phtml">Darío Lopérfido</a>, stepped down from his candidacy on Tuesday, saying he didn’t want to damage Macri’s chances against Kirchnerism.</p> <h2><strong>Lousteau’s great scare of 2015</strong></h2> <p>Four years ago, the PRO (Republican Proposal, Mauricio Macri’s original party) came within a splitting hair of losing the City of Buenos Aires, the district where the party was born. Martín Lousteau and Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, Macri’s Chief of Staff in the city at the time, faced up in a runoff with Larreta narrowly winning by 51.64% to 48.36%.</p> <p>Lousteau has been one of Argentina’s chameleonic politicians. Although he is a member of the UCR Radical Party, Lousteau started his political career as Minister of Production and Chief of Staff for Felipe Solá’s Peronist administration in the Buenos Aires province. Afterwards he was drafted by Cristina Kirchner’s Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernández for her Economy Ministry. But his stint was brief, ending with a bang after the government’s conflict with farmers in 2008.</p> <p>Following his exit, Lousteau slowly built himself up in the city of Buenos Aires, where he sided with the non-Kirchnerite progressive forces of the country&#8217;s capital. Lousteau’s profile fits well with the image of the aspirational “porteño”: young, hip, modern, liberal, pro-choice, married to a successful actress (Carla Peterson) and more focused on the city than the rest of the national landscape.</p> <p>In the 2015 race, his candidacy did well in middle-class regions while Kirchnerite Mariano Recalde, who finished third, comfortably beat him in the poorest southern districts. Recalde’s votes moved to Lousteau in the runoff, but it wasn’t enough to beat Larreta.</p> <h2><strong>A most favored district</strong></h2> <p>With the exception of the 2015 scare, Buenos Aires city has been the only consistently strong electoral district for Macri’s PRO party and his <em>Cambiemos</em> coalition.</p> <p>After the 2015 scare, Macri gave Lousteau the Embassy of the United States as a peace offering, hoping that this would defuse his threat. Besides, he seemed perfect for getting along with the Obama administration. Lousteau quit after a year to compete with Macri’s candidates for the House of Representatives in the 2017 mid-term elections. This time, however, Lousteau’s political capital seemed to have devalued, as he only got 12.3% of the vote against 50.98% of Macri’s ally Elisa Carrió.</p> <p>Still, Larreta and the national administration have worked hard to make the 2019 mayoral election a clinch for them. Public spending in <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/05/16/macri-amps-up-public-works-despite-shrinking-budget">landmark infrastructure initiatives</a> of the governing coalition has centered in the city. The elevation of the Mitre, South Belgrano and San Martín railway lines, the Paseo del Bajo highway for heavy traffic and the urbanization of city slums and their integration to the urban landscape have been the most notable investments.</p> <p>In addition, the Mayor has been accused of building a widespread media shield through <a href="https://www.letrap.com.ar/nota/2018-7-30-16-6-0-como-reparte-la-ciudad-la-publicidad-oficial">state advertising in the media</a>, a frequent practice in Argentina. Although the ribbon-cutting and yellow PRO billboards across the city could be contrasted with the daily complaints from public transport commuters or the sale of public lands to friendly developers, even opposition media such as C5N (a heavy critic of Macri&#8217;s administration) usually stays quiet on Larreta. &#8220;In just one month they spent 109 million pesos to advertise the construction of 54 new schools. We went to check them out and only 10 had been built,&#8221; Recalde said blasting the mayor <a href="https://www.nueva-ciudad.com.ar/notas/201905/40664-larreta-gasto-casi--110-millones-en-publicidad-para-instalar-el-mito-de-las-54-nuevas-escuelas.html">recently</a>. &#8220;This money is being used to silence the media.&#8221;</p> <h2><strong>Can city Peronism reinvent itself?</strong></h2> <p>Larreta&#8217;s multiple deals mean only one big opponent remains in the country&#8217;s capital: the perennial loser Buenos Aires city Peronism.</p> <p>The remaining small progressive forces in the city have joined forces behind Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner&#8217;s call for unity. Victoria Donda, Pino Solanas and other figures of the left closed deals with Kirchnerism and were ready to compete in primaries for the candidacy against Cristina&#8217;s protégé Recalde.</p> <p>But a dark-horse candidate emerged: Matías Lammens, president of San Lorenzo Football Club. His profile seems a mixture of both Mauricio Macri’s credentials when he first won the city and Lousteau’s. He’s an “outsider to politics” and has the successful administration of a football club under his belt. He also has some of Lousteau&#8217;s young, hip appeal and admires the Latin American left, an alluring feature for the Kirchnerite voter. Finally, he’s also close to Pope Francis. His weak spots include the fact that he has never held public office and the relatively low amount of people who know him among the electorate.</p> <p>Lammens&#8217; platform has focused on public transport, public schools and a green and egalitarian discourse. But will that be sufficient to counteract Larreta&#8217;s public works machine? And will there be enough time until October to build him up as a viable alternative?</p> <p>Other than Lammens, the early exits of Lousteau and Lopérfido mean presidential candidates Roberto Lavagna and José Luis Espert still have room for a BA city mayor in their tickets. Although Lavagna seemed like a more natural fit for Lousteau, the presidential hopeful has been left looking for an alternative, as his ticket lost appeal due to his low figures in polls.</p> <p>Larreta&#8217;s road towards re-election seems easier than that of Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal or President Mauricio Macri. But, as the experience of 2015 proves, one shouldn’t count its chickens before they hatch.</p> <p>

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Amadeo Gandolfo

Amadeo Gandolfo is an historian, journalist and researcher. He has worked at the CONICET (National Council For Scientific and Technical Research), writes at the Revista Crisis magazine and teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.