Battle for Bucharest mayor seat heats up

Battle for Bucharest mayor seat heats up
Local elections are scheduled in Romania on June 9. / Arvidfo via Pixabay
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest February 29, 2024

Potential Social Democrat candidate Gabriela Firea has proposed herself for the post of Bucharest mayor, despite there being no agreement yet between the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its partners in government, the National Liberal Party (PNL) on a joint candidate for the position. 

Local elections are scheduled in Romania on June 9, and so far the battle for the Bucharest mayor has been the most animated in a year that will also see elections for the national and European parliaments, and the Romanian presidency. 

Before Firea, previously the first female mayor of the Romanian capital, unexpectedly put her name forward, the Social Democrats and the PNL were negotiating and exploring alternative strategies that could give them a chance to win back Bucharest City Hall from incumbent mayor Nicusor Dan, an independent backed by the reformist Union Save Romania (USR). 

The Liberals would prefer someone with an entrepreneurial pedigree, while the Social Democrats do not have many alternatives. Both parties agreed that their candidate should not be an independent; they want someone who is at least ready to join one of the two parties.

The two parties, which have formed a grand coalition in the national parliament, have also been in talks over their strategy for the general election in the autumn, and a joint candidate for the presidential election. 

The move by Firea, who served as mayor of Bucharest between 2016 and 2020, is only one of the complex developments that have pushed the race for Bucharest City Hall up the public agenda. 

Independent candidate accused 

In another notable development, Bucharest district 4 mayor Cristian Popescu Piedone has been accused by the National Integrity Agency (ANI) of appointing his son-in-law to an official position. If the accusations hold water, Piedone might not be able to run in the local elections this June.

Piedone has the potential to erode the score of the ruling coalition’s candidate (whomever he or she might be). The accusations were announced the day after he announced plans to run for the Bucharest mayor position. Nobody was surprised by ANI finding irregularities in Piedone’s activity, but the timing prompted many questions.

All about real estate 

In another notable development, incumbent mayor Dan claimed that as the local elections approach, the “real estate mafia” will deploy huge amounts of money to back any candidate against him who is ready to accept more “flexible” urban regulations and allow them to build just like they built over the past 30 years.

Dan claimed that instead of a public debate, there will be “a hate campaign, a campaign with personal attacks” and a lot of underground money from “real estate sharks” will be spent in the pre-election campaign campaign.

“[W]e actually did not have a real opposition to this administration. The only fight that took place over the past three years was the fight between the current administration and the real estate sharks. That is, between a correct, healthy development for the public interest and a speculative development in which the private person takes the money and after that, the authority comes and tries to fix what can be fixed,” said Dan.

“Now the real estate sharks are looking for a puppet who will allow them to do what they’ve done in the past: 10-story blocks of apartments on two-lane streets, blocks of apartments in parks, complexes of blocks where you can't find a road, a school, a kindergarten.”