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Israel-praising, Evangelical Bishop Inaugurated Mayor of Rio De Janeiro

Controversial new Mayor Marcelo Crivella has been to Israel over 35 times and has had to distance himself from disparaging statements he has made against homosexuals, Catholics and Hindus.

Senator Marcelo Crivella, candidate for Rio de Janeiro mayor, gestures to photographers after voting during the municipal elections at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 30, 2016.
Senator Marcelo Crivella, candidate for Rio de Janeiro mayor, gestures to photographers after voting during the municipal elections at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 30, 2016. Ricardo Moraes, Reuters

Brazil's two biggest cities on Sunday inaugurated mayors who are political outsiders and whose victories underscored deep frustration with the political class and public corruption.

Joao Doria, a millionaire businessman who once hosted "The Apprentice Brazil," took the oath of office in the country's financial capital of Sao Paulo. He defeated an ally of the president as well as the incumbent. Evangelical bishop and senator Marcelo Crivella was also sworn in, as Rio de Janeiro's mayor. He also defeated an ally of the president.

The victories of these unusual candidates speak to the depth of Brazilian discontent with politics. While many Brazilians have long dismissed their politicians as corrupt, an investigation into kickbacks at the state-run oil company Petrobras has revealed graft on a scale that has shocked even the most cynical. Arrests of politicians and businessmen seem to occur every week.

Crivella faces an especially tough task in Rio, which is essentially broke and has struggled to pay police and other public servants, even as it tries to clamp down on rampant crime. Rio residents blame the economic problems on corruption, while others say the government overextended itself to host the 2016 Olympics.

In addition to its political implications, Crivella's election is also a sign of the rise of evangelicals in Brazil. Although Brazil is largely Roman Catholic, the evangelical community now accounts for one-fifth of the population of around 200 million.

Crivella is a staunch supporter of Israel, often citing his faith as the underlying reason for his support of the Jewish state. “Marcelo Crivella, who has been to Israel nearly 35 times, is a great friend of the Jewish community and the State of Israel,” Israel’s Rio-based honorary consul Osias Wurman, a former president of Rio’s Jewish federation, told JTA in November. 

Crivella is also known for using religious imagery in his political rhetoric, including recording hymes during his campaign, one was even titled "I am Israel." When discussing crime in Rio de Janeiro, Crivella insisted, “We are living during a deep moral crisis, it [Rio] should be walled like Jerusalem.”

Crivella has had to work hard to distance himself from statements he made in a book he wrote in 1999 in which he described Roman Catholics as "demonic" and claimed that Hindus drank their children's blood.

The 59-year-old has also described homosexuality as evil and African religions as worshiping "evil spirits."

Revelations of widespread corruption throughout the past year have exacerbated an already uneasy political situation in Brazil, which is also in deep recession. The last president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from office in mid-2016 on charges she broke budget laws.

Current President Michel Temer took over amid hopes he would push through reforms and rescue an economy in deep recession. But questions about Temer's legitimacy and that of his reform agenda have dogged him since he took office. More recently, he has been accused of abusing his power - an allegation he denies.

Through it all, anger with politicians in Brazil has grown. Protests have drawn people from across the political spectrum seeking an outlet for their disgust.