Let’s see what you, the readers, would do if you had been elected as mayor or mayoress of your town last month…
Unless you have been living on Mars lately, it cannot have escaped your notice that the local elections in Spain were held on May 27. Us expatriates fall into three categories – those who voted; those who abstained, believing their single ballot would make no difference to the parking crisis, leaky health centre roof or dog-excrement-filled streets of their town, and those who were voted for.
Many expats’ contribution to democracy does not stop at handing in a voting slip. Foreigners are joining forces with Spanish councillors to do their bit for their municipality – of these, more than a hundred electoral candidates were British.
Here at thinkSPAIN|today we were curious to know what our readers would do if they had been voted in as mayor or mayoress.
Some of you had some very constructive ideas that ranged from street-cleaning to Spanish tests for foreigners, roadworks to river diversion, and ‘green’ fiestas to grants for house-painting.
Yet some of you had ideas that were just plain crazy. National Donut Day? Banning fashion faux pas? Slippery pole competitions for councillors? Whatever next?
Clean up, pay up and learn to integrate
George Lennon, from Sax, wants to ban noisy mini-motorbikes, mopeds and motorbikes, fine dog-owners who fail to clean up after their pets, clamp down on litter-bugs and jail graffiti artists.
R.J., who has a holiday home in Oliva, has similar sentiments regarding the state of his adoptive town’s streets. “I would ban all dogs - I hate dog poo - litter-louts, and speeding cars,” he reveals, but on the positive side he would plant more flowers in the town, resurface any potholed roads and pass a byelaw forcing everyone to smile, all the time.
“I would bring in a municipal law that meant all guests had to hire a car and give a contribution to their hosts, if not the town hall would call round and fine them,” reveals Marcelle from Pego when asked what she would do if she was elected.
The council would recognise them instantly, she says, because “at the supermarket, they fill up the trolley with booze and the hosts think they are going to replace all they have drunk when in fact they pack it into their suitcase and take it home.” She explains she would make the town hall publish a list of offenders on their notice board.
“Anyone who moans that the Spanish don't speak English, or that there are too many foreigners here - alluding to the Spanish - would be brought before a peoples’ court and tried…in Spanish,” she continues.
Simplicity and clarity
Chuck Svoboda, from Canada, reveals his wife Lisa, a Swedish national, was running for the council in Benissa before this year’s elections. “She was fourth on the Independent list, but only three were elected,” Svoboda observes.
“The two main things I would have done if I had been elected as mayor would have been to make access to town hall administration simpler and more transparent. The second thing would have been to demand a forensic and total review of the town's books.”
This second idea was inspired by the news that recently broke alleging that neighbouring town, Calpe, has a debt of 68 million euros.
Chuck and Lisa feel strongly that all nationalities should be represented on the council, as the issues that affect expatriates may not necessarily always be relevant to native residents.
“Here in Benissa, those living in the coastal zone - almost half the total population, mainly EU residents, and the area that pays the highest taxes - more than half of the town's revenues - have no representation on the new town council.”
Painting the town – but not necessarily red
Juan, from Oliva, says “I would put a toll booth on the A7 just south of the town. This coupled with the one north of the town would provide the much-needed bypass at minimal cost.” He would also provide free veterinary care for stray animals which are given homes by local residents.
In the meantime, he says, his wife would ban the wearing of puffball skirts – this summer’s widespread high-street fashion disaster – in the town if she became mayoress, scrap the one-céntimo coin (“bloody useless, tiny thing”) and remove all smoking restrictions in restaurants “and shoot anyone who complains.”
“Push for the N-332 by-pass and the Gandia-Dénia train-line, open a Corte Inglés, instal more regular buses to the beach, create more parking spaces and give grants to people who live on the N-332 to paint their rendering, where it’s been damaged by traffic fumes,” says Victoria, also from Oliva.
Wayne, from Ondara, would set up house-painting grant scheme like Victoria. He would also like to run free Spanish language courses in the town hall, and encourage mayors of other municipalities to do the same. A keen golfer, Wayne would also cut green fees by 50 per cent on the courses in any town in which he was elected mayor.
Go green – and don’t forget the foreigners
Dawn from Oliva says she would pass a bye-law stopping homeowners from pulling up native mountain plants from their gardens. They should respect these valuable species and set aside an area of their garden where these plants are allowed to grow freely and provide a habitat for mountain fauna.
Also with the environment in mind, Roberto and Gabriela from El Verger say they would pressure the Valencian government to do a U-turn on desalination plants, and divert water currently discharging into the sea from the river Ebro down to the Comunitat Valenciana and Región de Murcia.
They would also hold monthly surgeries at the town hall where residents can visit them and discuss their problems and grievances concerning the state of the town. Mindful of the importance of the expatriate vote, they would employ interpreters to encourage non-Spanish residents to come forward with their suggestions.
In recent times, local people have observed an increase in the number of prostitutes plying their trade on the N-332 as it passes through El Verger. A sad fact of modern life, these women – mostly non-EU immigrants – find themselves with little option but to enter this degrading ‘profession’ in order to financially support their children, to pay the bills and to put food on the table.
Roberto and Gabriela would like to see these women’s lives made easier. “If they really have to do it, then let them get on with it, but as mayor I would rent caravans to them so they don’t have to freeze to death in winter or ‘attend to clients’ in the orange groves,” says Roberto.
Less bull, more fun
“If I had won the elections I would introduce a Citizens’ Test for all expats arriving permanently in Spain covering Spanish vocabulary and grammar; Spanish etiquette and customs, and one part demystifying the mañana attitude and other misnomers,” comments Lucy Pilkington from Parcent.
She would also promote eco-friendly Fallas and other fiestas, using non-toxic paint and compressed re-cycled paper for the ninots and have people-running events instead of bull-running. Lucy says Xaló's popular ‘Run of the Drunks’ set the right example.
As mayoress, she would also ensure some of the funds raised from businesses in the town were used to renovate the townhouses that are ‘trashed during the events’.
On the less-serious side, Lucy reveals that, as mayoress, she would “insist the villages must have space for ‘big kids’ as well as little ones - bouncy castles for adults, 5-a-side football teams, ‘youth’ centres with pinball, pelota and Playstations, and Adult Twister painted on the centre of the plaza.”
She would also encourage open council meetings, conducted in the style of It’s a Knockout.
“For example, whoever survives the slippery pole gets to be my Councillor for Sport, and so on.”
In order to increase motivation and productivity in the workplace, and a improve the homelife-work balance, Lucy wants to “instigate a new town calendar to include regular Doughnut Day, Dads with Kids Day, Stay-in-Bed Day and Sing Loudly Days.”
How not to win votes and influence people
Charo López said that if she became mayoress of her town – which she didn’t wish to name and shame in ThinkSPAIN|today – the first thing she would do is throw a huge post-electoral bash to celebrate her victory, inviting all her friends and hangers-on. “Then I would join a gym and go to spas so that I look good in official photos. It goes without saying that, as mayoress, they’d give me discounts or perhaps not even charge for my beauty treatments.”
But what would you do to benefit your town, Charo?
“Exactly what the existing leader of my town has done – which is not a lot, but has resulted in said candidate being re-elected.”
And how would you ensure you were re-elected?
“I’d organise parties in the areas where new expats have moved in - as they don’t know me and haven’t seen what I’ve been doing these last four years, with a couple of balloons, a mobile disco an a few plates of crisps and nuts, I’ll have earned their vote.
“Oh, and I’d fine people for occupying space on the pavement, like mopeds parked where they shouldn’t be, but then I’d use the pavements to put up stalls the size of a lorry promoting my party throughout the whole electoral campaign.”
Charo, a keen musician, believes conditions for local bands should be improved and funds invested in them, as they are a vital part of Spain’s fiestas.
“If I was mayoress though, I’d do what they do in my town – that is, if bands want places to practice, tell them they’ll just have to buy their own! Who cares if they have to use a leaky old warehouse with a corrugated roof and disturb the neighbours three times a week. As long as I don’t live near it.” If Charo is running for mayoress in 2011, be very afraid.
As for the rest of you, we at thinkSPAIN|today will be watching the electoral boards very closely in four years’ time to see whether any of you have decided to put your ideas into practice. If so, puffball skirt-wearers, riders of noisy mopeds, those who cannot be bothered to walk to a bin to deposit their rubbish and any guests who drink their hosts dry had better start saying their prayers.
Elvis lives…and he’s a councillor in Reus
“If I were mayoress, I would adopt the example of the guy standing for mayor of Reus (Tarragona), who plans to attend council meetings dressed as Elvis,” Lucy Pilkington reveals.
Ariel Santamaría amassed a huge quantity of votes by turning up at a plenary looking like his hero, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, whom many claim to have seen alive and well in various branches of Mercadona and propping up the local patron saint fiestas.
Throwing a one-man concert as part of his party’s electoral campaign, Ariel ‘Elvis’ Santamaría’s style of music was closer to modern-day heavy rock than the croon-friendly Don’t be cruel or Blue suede shoes.
A keen environmentalist, former postman Santamaría wants to conserve green belt areas whilst making good use of the land at the same time. He proposes growing hash plants in protected areas of countryside.
Keen to brighten up the Tarragona-province town, Ariel has suggested painting the Town Hall building pink.
Santamaría also suggested that if he became mayor, he would hand out 21,000 free bicycles for residents to use around the town in order to cut pollution and traffic jams.
“Politics needs humour,” stresses Ariel, when asked why he had taken this bizarre approach to his campaign.
Sadly, Ariel did not win the elections, despite his popularity, but remains the spokesman and sole councillor in office for his party, CORI.
Socialist leader Lluís Miquel Pérez will continue to govern until 2011.