Spain is obsessed with its progressive new mayors using public transport

Woman of the people.
Woman of the people.
Image: Reuters/Sergio Perez
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It’s one of the clearest signs that progressive politics are sweeping across Spain: The mayors of its three largest cities are being lauded by the public for using public transportation to get to work. In May, Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia all elected politically inexperienced city leaders from leftist coalitions (link in Spanish) aligned with Spain’s new anti-austerity party, Podemos. Since the mayors took office in June, their everyman commuting habits have won the hearts of many city residents, who have flooded social media with photos of their sightings on subways and bicycles.

“Carmena, Ribó and Colau by metro and bike on their first day of work. Just like their his predecessors…”

Madrid’s new mayor, Manuela Carmena, 71, who never used an official car during her long tenure as a high-profile judge, has carried that practice into her new gig.

Housing eviction activist Ada Colau, Barcelona’s new mayor, who is known for having been detained by police during anti-eviction protests, continues to commute by subway.

“LOL, today I found Colau in the subway”

Valencia’s new mayor and bike lover Joan Ribó announced that (link in Spanish) he plans to trade in his predecessor’s Audi 8 for a Ford Mondeo.

“Ribó gets to the City Hall in his first laboral day.”

“Ada Colau, in the subway, after visiting Nou Barris, on Monday (photographed by Ricard Cugat for El Periodico)”

“Yes, it is good that Carmena takes the subway, but hey, her grand children could also give her a ride”

Other commenters think the behavior is more for show, and point out that the mayors still use cars (link in Spanish).

“From the subway to… The mayor lives a 10 minutes walk away from the Board of #Hortaleza, a commute she has done by official car.”

There are downsides to the mayors’ political inexperience. Even as they have gained popularity for offbeat habits, they have also been criticized for being former activists.

In Madrid, for example, conservatives have called for the resignation of Mayor Carmena’s spokesperson, Rita Maestre, for participating in a nude pro-choice protest in 2011 inside a university chapel. Barcelona’s Colau has been criticized for hiring a former pornography activist as her communications director who once participated in a performance that included urinating on the city’s streets (link in Spanish).