Back in June the good people of Bucharest elected Gabriela Vranceanu Firea Pandele as their new mayor. We say good people, but in fact low turnout and the one-round, winner-takes-all voting system employed meant that Firea’s victory was never in doubt. In a two-round election she would have been annihilated in a run-off by Nicusor Dan.
Alas, there was no run off, and Firea, supported by the usual suspects who back anyone wearing a PSD badge, won.
Firea is a former television presenter who in 1999 was briefly the spokesperson for the government of Mugur Isarescu, before returning to television.
Firea broke into politics in 2012, when she was elected as a senator for the PSD. She became the PSD’s spokesperson in 2014, infamously shaming herself with two disgraceful outbursts during that year’s presidential election.
Firstly, she declared during the campaign that Klaus Iohannis was not fit to be president as he didn’t have any children. (She would later be sanctioned by Romania’s equality commission for her discriminatory outbursts).
Then, on election day itself, when the PSD and its agents in the foreign ministry were actively attempting to prevent Romanians living abroad from voting, Firea disgraced herself again by claiming that there were ‘no queues’ outside Romanian embassies and consulates, when in fact the queues were of biblical proportions.
Still, the PSD has never been the kind of party that lets previous offences get in the way, and Firea’s image recovered enough for her to become its candidate for mayor. When elected she became the PSD’s first nomination to take the capital. She is also the first woman to hold the post.
In the six months since being elected Firea has managed to make many people in Bucharest long for her corrupt and incompetent predecessor Sorin Oprescu.
One of Firea’s first diktats saw her cancel a popular and long-running sports festival, as it delayed her journey home. She is also apparently not all that keen on rock and pop concerts taking place in Piata Constitutiei: don’t expect too many big names in Bucharest next year. (Did you not already wonder why Depeche Mode are going to Cluj, not Bucharest?) Firea has, however, allegedly spent tens of thousands of euros on the theatre project of a folk singer, Rodica Bitanescu, who supported her election campaign.
Firea made little effort to support Bucharest’s ultimately failed bid to become a European Capital of Culture, but in August allocated €3 million of the capital’s budget to the megalomaniac cathedral being built behind Casa Poporului. She has attempted to prevent city councillors who oppose her from making council documents public without her approval, while her intransigence meant that Bucharest was in October days away from having its heating and hot water cut off, an issue yet to be fully resolved. As for dealing with Bucharest’s traffic problems in her first six months in office, forget it. In fact, she has reportedly reduced the capital’s infrastructure budget by €7 million. More than €30 million has been found for the conversion of Romexpo into a multi-purpose arena however. So there’s that.
Firea of course is partly immune to the problems of the city as despite being mayor of the Romanian capital she chooses to live most of the time in Voluntari, where her husband, Florin Pandele, is mayor.
Pandele is Firea’s second husband. Her first, Rasvan Firea, died in 2010. She married Pandele – a friend of her dead husband’s – less than a year later, having apparently met him at Voluntari town hall while dealing with some paperwork regarding her first husband’s death. He invited her to climb to the top of Voluntari’s cathedral with him. How charmingly romantic! Godfather at the wedding? The equally charming Gigi Becali.
Pandele is, you will no doubt be surprised to hear, something of a dodgy geezer. Earlier this year he was found to have ‘massively’ plagiarised his doctoral thesis (yep, another one) and was on Monday night caught on camera beating up a constituent who had dared to protest against his wife’s appalling performance as mayor. A police investigation into the matter is underway.
Firea is herself seriously miffed this week with the fact that Klaus Iohannis has not officially invited her to join him on the official podium at Thursday’s Romanian National Day military parade. Can you blame him?
Anyway, the point of all this? None really, except to point out what lovely people currently run Bucharest.
The good news is that the USR is already talking of a recall referendum next year. It would have huge support: we may therefore not have to put up with Firea for much longer.