By Carole Reedy
At this time last year Claudia Sheinbaum took the reins from Miguel Ángel Mancera to become the first woman elected mayor of la Cuidad de México, one of the largest cities in the world.
Sheinbaum was part of the election sweep of MORENA (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), the new party headed by now-president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. She won, as did López Obrador, by an overwhelming margin. In fact, the entire country expressed its dissatisfaction with the corruption of the PRI and PAN parties, shocking conservatives by electing the MORENA party in all sectors. The party now has majorities in the Senate and House, including many governor positions.
So, how are they doing? A year isn’t much time to fix the damage done by years of PRI corruption, and fighting corruption is the main focus of both López Obrador and Sheinbaum. But there are many challenges in a city of 20,000,000.
I’m not a political writer, so here I’ll try to give you a sense of the perceptions of the city’s citizens based on a sampling of what’s published in newspapers and other media as well as what I hear on the street, peppered, of course, with my personal opinion.
On November 12, 2019, the newspaper El Financiero published the results of a survey of the city’s 16 districts on Sheinbaum´s performance to date. The average was 53 percent in her favor. The results sorted out, not surprisingly, by wealth, with poorer communities very much satisfied with her performance and the richer areas less so.
In the more prosperous Miguel Hidalgo and Benito Juárez districts, she received 47 and 44 percent in favor, respectively, and 51 and 52 percent unfavorable. In the less affluent areas, she received 65 percent in favor. In my district, Cuauhtemoc, which encompasses Centro, Condesa, Roma, Santa María la Ribera, and Doctores, she scored 55 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable. The survey was conducted via telephone by El Financiero.
There are myriad issues and areas of concern in our big city, but security surely tops them all. Sheinbaum has made changes in the security structure, including replacing police with the National Guard in an attempt to curb crime and corruption.
Unfortunately, in the first half of 2019, the city’s highest rate of intentional homicide was recorded, with an increase of 14.9 percent over 2018, according to the Mexico City chapter of the National Citizens’ Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano), an independent organization that monitors security. Members of the Violence against Women Information Network (Red de Información contra Las Mujeres) report that 20,418 women were treated in situations of violence in the country’s capital. Crime is an enormous problem for the country as a whole, but while both Sheinbaum and López Obrador continue their efforts to curb it, the numbers keep increasing. This is the number one issue for most citizens.
Despite these alarming statistics, I personally have not experienced discomfort with the safety of the city. It has been ten years since I changed my residence from a small quiet beach town to this megalopolis, and I feel as safe here in my city apartment as I did at my palapa in the sand. I take public transportation and taxis and walk the streets at all hours without problems. Every place has an element of crime, and naturally you must use the same caution you would in Iowa City or New York.
With that said, much of the violence in Mexico stems from infighting among drug cartels and violence in the home.
Green spaces and transport
More green areas including parks, walls, and the like are also on the agenda. Mexico City has one of the largest, most beautiful parks in the world, Chapultepec Park, and a castle that overlooks it all. Sheinbaum has vowed to plant more trees and create more parks.
It feels to me that the city has been spiffed up. Sidewalks are cleaner and there are sweepers everywhere. Metro stations are newly painted and cleaner, though much improvement needs to be done in places such as the Tacubaya station, perhaps the city’s busiest metro station. The problem of non-working escalators in the large metro stations still seems to be a stubborn challenge.
“Electric transport will be expanded and improved from the existing infrastructure in the city,” Sheinbaum promises. “At the same time we are planning the construction of new low-emission forms of transport such as the cable bus for the most remote and marginal areas of the city.”
Moving people around this grand city is a challenge and an absolute necessity. Sheinbaum formerly held the office of Secretary of the Environment under then-mayor López Obrador. In 2006, she was in charge of construction of the Metrobus, which includes seven lines integrated into other transport modes. It moves more than a million people daily. She was also responsible for the construction of a 60-kilometer network of cycle paths, as well as the Periférico, a 58-kilometre mega structure over which 50,000 vehicles pass every day. This highway was built between 2002 and 2015.
Education is among the most important issues for any country or city. Both López Orbrador and Sheinbaum this year have initiated becas (scholarships) for all age groups.
Sheinbaum also introduced, for the first time, a gender-neutral uniform policy in the public schools. “Boys can wear skirts and girls can wear pants if they want,” states the new mayor. In a predominately conservative Catholic country, this is a big step forward in protecting the rights of transgender teens.
One of the most important educational projects Sheinbaum created is the PILARES program (Points of Innovation, Freedom, Art, Education and Knowledge), consisting of 300 community centers that will be located in the most marginalized areas of the city. Her motivation is to make “Mexico City a city of rights.” PILARES consists of a cyber school as well as an area for cultural and sports activities. She believes the program is essential to reducing violence in the city.
One of the most significant changes the MORENA party instituted is the Austerity Program. Reducing the city’s bureaucracy by 15 percent has focused the savings on augmenting education programs and water service, among other services. Sheinbaum has not cut salaries as the federal government did, because they had previously been reduced.
Every citizen has ideas about what makes a successful city. For most of us it’s the simple things. In Mexico City, as in my hometown Chicago, one of the big questions has always been “Has the garbage been picked up?” I’m happy to report my neighborhood, Roma Sur, has daily garbage service.