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Cardenas takes helm in Mexico City

Cuauhtemoc Cardenas

New mayor calls for assault on crime, corruption

December 5, 1997
Web posted at: 8:47 p.m. EST (0147 GMT)

MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Issuing a strong promise to fight crime and corruption, veteran opposition leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas took office Friday as Mexico City's first elected mayor in nearly 70 years.

"We cannot wait to squeeze change from this capital. If we are passive, better times will never come," Cardenas said. "We will begin from the first day, now, with understanding, responsibility and passion, as if time were running out, or we'll never do it."

"Let's win back the city from the criminals," he said to loud applause. "We will not tolerate corruption of any kind."

Cardenas, 63, founder the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, took the oath of office before an assembly of dignitaries, including President Ernesto Zedillo. Afterward, he made a triumphal procession to the Zocalo, a historic square in the heart of the city.

His supporters jammed the narrow streets, cheering and waving his party's flag.

"Brother, we have been waiting for this day all of our lives," said Alberto Guerrero, a 42-year-old city worker among the throngs.

Cardenas will govern Mexico's Federal District, which contains about 8.5 million people in a sprawling metropolitan area that contains another 10 million people.

Previously, the leader of the Federal District was a presidential appointee, which invariably meant that the country's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, governed the capital.

PRI lost its majority in Congress for the first time in 68 years   

But under an electoral reform designed to make Mexico more democratic, balloting was held for the mayor's post in July. Cardenas -- twice an unsuccessful candidate for the Mexican presidency -- made a political comeback, wresting the office from PRI.

The mayor's post is widely considered to be the second most powerful in Mexico, making Cardenas a serious contender for the presidency in 2000.

Opposition parties, including the PRD and the right-leaning National Action Party, also now hold a majority of seats in Mexico City's municipal assembly, once a PRI bastion.

But Cardenas and the opposition will be governing a city with a myriad of intractable problems, including a wave of violent crime, accusations of corruption in the police force and virtually all levels of municipal government, and one of the country's highest unemployment rates.

Many city residents suffer from a chronic lack of basic services, such as potable water and adequate sewage facilities. And Mexico City suffers some of the worst air pollution of any city on Earth.

Topping all that, the city has a staggering $1.5 billion debt.

Despite the vast problems, the public has enthusiastic expectations that Cardenas' administration will be successful. Reforma newspaper published a poll Friday showing that 71 percent of city residents thought Mexico City would be a better place with Cardenas at the helm.

Correspondent Chris Kline and Reuters contributed to this report.


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