Jun 3, 2010

Mockus for President!

Seems like Antanas Mockus won't be Colombia's next president after all... But there is still a chance as the contest will go to a second round in June.

Mockus is the mathematician and philosopher who, with no political experience, ran for mayor of Bogotá as the city was choked with violence, lawless traffic, corruption, and gangs of street children who mugged and stole. He focused on changing hearts and minds - not through preaching but through artistically creative strategies that employed the power of individual and community disapproval. And man was he successful!

In his struggle against corruption, he closed down the transit police because many of those 2,000 members were notoriously bribable.  Initially, he hired 20 professional mimes to to control traffic in Bogotá's chaotic and dangerous streets. They shadowed and mocked pedestrians who didn't follow crossing rules and poked fun at reckless drivers. The program was so popular that another 400 people were trained as mimes. He also decided to paint stars on the spots where pedestrians (1,500 of them) had been killed in traffic accidents. Traffic fatalities dropped by more than half, from an average of 1,300 per year to about 600.

As Bogotá women were afraid to go out at night, he launched a "Night for Women" and asked the city's men to stay home in the evening and care for the children; 700,000 women went out on the first of three nights. . "At that time, we were also looking for what would be the best image of a safe city, and I realized that if you see streets with many women you feel safer".

When there was a water shortage, Mockus appeared on TV programs taking a shower and turning off the water as he soaped, asking his fellow citizens to do the same. Water use is now 40% less than before the shortage.

He also asked people to pay 10% extra in voluntary taxes. To the surprise of many, 63,000 people voluntarily paid the extra taxes. In 2002, the city collected more than three times the revenues it had garnered in 1990. 

Another Mockus inspiration was to ask people to call his office if they found a kind and honest taxi driver; 150 people called and the mayor organized a meeting with all those good taxi drivers, who advised him about how to improve the behavior of mean taxi drivers. The good taxi drivers were named "Knights of the Zebra."

Read his full profile here. ht: freakonomics

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