Bishop, gospel singer, and engineer Marcelo Crivella was elected Rio de Janeiro’s new mayor on Sunday, October 30th. Winning with almost 60% of the vote in a runoff election, he easily fended off his Socialist challenger by twenty percentage points. The winning candidate said on Sunday night, "I thank God for winning this election, and the certainty that He will be with me and beside my companions who will rule with me."
Voter disgust was rampant following a corruption scandal that swept former President Dilma Rousseff from power this year and tarnished all of the major parties. In Rio, poor and working class voters supported Crivella for his promises to protect their families from crime, invest in health care for the poor, and improve shoddy city services left bankrupt by the Olympic spending. He also promised to create public-private partnerships to enroll 50% of Rio's young children into pre-school by 2020.
The race for mayor featured two candidates who took diametrical views on Israel. A year ago, Crivella's opponent burned an Israeli flag while denouncing the Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres as "an ideologue for terrorism." According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Crivella, a notable supporter of the State of Israel, rallied supporters by radio and newspaper to join in a rally to support Israel. Jewish areas of the city gave Crivella strong support at the ballot box. There are about 150,000 Jews in Rio.
The new mayor as a Brazilian Republican under the slogan, "The time has come to take care of the people."
He is the son of Catholic parents, attended a Methodist church as a child, and joined the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which preaches a “prosperity gospel.” For ten years, he was a missionary in Africa and became a bishop for the church. The church has become one of Brazil’s largest Pentecostal denomination and has several churches in New York City. As an engineer, Crivella helped to construct over seventy-five churches. He is well-known for writing and singing gospel hymns. In 1999, he released his popular, "The Reason of my life."
However, the new mayor played down his connections to the Universal Church and dismissed his early writings that attacked the Catholic church as the product of his “immature zeal” as a young missionary. Utilizing a jingle promising the separation of church and state, Crivella said that he would not eliminate city financing for the Gay Parade and Carnival. He also promised that he would not tolerate any kind of persecution of religions of African origin. He told the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, "If there is any religious prejudice, it will disappear in my administration."
According to the Brazilian Census, evangelicals number make up over 24% of the population and are growing fast. Increasingly, the evangelicals are taking a central role in Brazilian politics. Crivella became a senator in 2002. Evangelicals provided critical support in the narrow the election of President Dilma Rousseff in 2014, so their disenchantment was critical to the impeachment of her this year.
Crivella and fellow evangelicals founded the Brazilian Republican Party in 2005. During this year's municipal elections, the party had the greatest increase in vote share among all the parties.
Last week the mayor-elect went on an unofficial visit to Israel, but his office says that he would discuss security issues with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. The incoming mayor for Rio de Janiero has promised to better engage the city's Municipal Guard through community policing.
Crivella will be inaugurated as mayor on January 1st and will face enormous challenges to make good his promises.