From hosting ‘The Apprentice’ to running largest city in the Western Hemisphere
On his first day as mayor of the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, Joao Doria dressed in the green and neon yellow uniform worn by the city’s street cleaners and posed alongside them for pictures, a red-bristled broom in hand.
The 59-year-old celebrity businessman-turned-politician had promised during his campaign to clean up Sao Paulo, literally and figuratively.
Doria made millions publishing magazines, writing self-help business books, organizing exclusive corporate retreats and hosting television shows.
In a country that has been engulfed in political scandal, his nonpolitical background represented a fresh start to many voters looking for a way to take a sledgehammer to the political establishment.
His victory — along with his right-wing populism, penchant for luxury and tenure as host of “O Aprendiz,” the Brazilian version of “The Apprentice” — have spurred comparisons to Donald Trump, without the Twitter binges or incendiary behavior.
Doria has vowed to run Sao Paulo like a business by privatizing parks and soccer stadiums and working harder than his predecessors to improve public health, build better bike lanes and modernize schools.
“It’s possible to be different,” one of his advertisements said. “It’s possible to be better.”
Less than three months into his term, he must soon start to deliver. Cleaning the streets is the easy part. Changing the political culture will probably prove much more difficult.
Doria isn’t a total stranger to politics. His father, Joao Doria Sr., an advertising executive who created Brazil’s version of Valentine’s Day to boost June sales, won a seat in Congress in June 1963 when Doria was 5.
But 10 months later, a military junta seized power and booted him from office. The family fled to Paris and sold their possessions to get by there.
Doria returned to Brazil with his mother and younger brother in 1966 while his father remained in France.
His mother’s parents disapproved of her marriage to a dissident politician and offered the family little support. Left to raise two boys on her own, Maria Sylvia Vieira de Morais Dias Doria pawned her jewelry and sold diapers. She died of pneumonia at 36, just three months after her husband’s 1974 return from exile.
By then, 16-year-old Doria had already been working at an advertising agency for three years, having started out doing clerical work. He went on to study advertising and journalism.
His publishing house, Doria Editora, has magazines that are aimed at the upper class and the business community. One of its newest titles is Caviar Lifestyle.
Doria’s books are similarly themed. “Success With Style” and “Lessons in Winning” draw on his triumphs in the business world to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
But it was television that made Doria into a celebrity. Starting in the late 1980s, he interviewed businesspeople on shows called “Success,” “Show Business” and “Face to Face.”
His interviewees included Trump, who was then in his 40s. Doria asked him about his plan for success, the cost of his yacht and why he liked running casinos.
“O Aprendiz” — which follows the same format as the U.S. original that Trump hosted — had already been on the air for six years when Doria took over in 2010 and hosted for two seasons.
In one scene, he fired a contestant for what he considered to be unethical behavior in pursuing a business lead.
“This country will only change when it has ethics, principles,” Doria told him. “If you continue to have this type of attitude during your life, you won’t end up being anybody.”
By 2016, when Doria announced he was running for mayor of Sao Paulo, his net worth was more than $57 million, according to election filings.
He said he was running to improve the management of the city and help it reach its potential. It didn’t hurt that his main opponent, the incumbent, Fernando Haddad, was a member of the Workers’ Party, which had several prominent members implicated in a billion-dollar graft scandal being investigated by federal police.
Doria won with 53% in the first-round vote in October, the first time since 1988 that Sao Paulo wouldn’t need a second-round vote to choose a mayor. Besides one congressman who was a well-known clown and comedian, there are few cases of political outsiders winning big offices in Brazil.
So far Doria has focused on the literal side of his cleanup, a program he dubbed Cidade Linda (Beautiful City) to repair sidewalks, remove graffiti, prune trees and spruce up flowerbeds.
He has already earned a reputation as a hard worker, making the rounds to talk to people in the streets and promising to help do much of the work needed with his own hands. Through a spokesman, he said he was too busy to be interviewed for this article.
“He knows how to take care of our city,” said Wilson Miguel Pieretti, a mechanic who voted for Doria. “He’s out there early every morning, working hard to get rid of graffiti and get people off the streets.”
Some of his tactics, however, have drawn criticism.
Days after he donned the street cleaner uniform in a public square, his administration removed 55 homeless people from the square and relocated them to a smaller, fenced area where city workers hanged green canvas, blocking the group from view.
“How can you treat people that way?” said Paulo Carvalho, a 29-year-old waiter who lives in downtown. “What the government needs to do is give them a place to live and a job. They aren’t garbage that can just be swept away. Covering them up won’t help.”
After residents of the neighborhood complained about the homeless people living there, City Hall promised to find a solution to permanently remove the people living in the area by the end of June.
Doria’s effort to eliminate graffiti — by dramatically increasing fines and painting over all of it in gray — has spurred jokes that his program should be named Cidade Cinza (Gray City).
The mayor recently suggested that a gallery be opened where artists can produce as much graffiti as they want.
Mauro Neri, one of the city’s most well-known graffiti artists who goes by the name Veracidade, a play on words in Portuguese that means both “veracity” and “see the city,” welcomed the move but said it wouldn’t eliminate graffiti elsewhere.
“They can try to regulate it — go ahead — but others will always find another way to continue to create art in the streets,” he said.
Doria has also faced criticism for his new program to help drug addicts living in a downtown neighborhood known as “Crackland” by getting them jobs and housing them in treatment centers with mandatory drug testing.
The Sao Paulo state prosecutor’s office has filed a complaint saying that it is concerned that the program does not adhere to research about drug abuse and that it provides too few social workers.
Doria has managed to deflect most of the criticism and maintain high approval ratings by focusing on how he stands apart from politicians tainted by greed and corruption.
“I’m not a fan of a lot of his policies,” said Keila Rios, a public school teacher. “But what other choice did we have? It’s not like he could be any worse than any of our other politicians. At least with him we get a fresh start.”
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