‘I have no reason to count the political cost’

Your decision to run for the post of Athens mayor has surprised many people. Some see it as a flight from battle, since it is unusual for a deputy to voluntarily leave a vital ministry halfway through his term. It’s definitely not a flight from battle, quite the reverse, I’d say. Athens City Hall is the government in miniature. By a happy coincidence, I did my first interview as a candidate for the mayoralty of Athens with Kathimerini. If you look back to February 1990, you’ll find an article of mine in which I argue why politicians should retire from Parliament after four terms in office. The years haven’t caught up with me. But after a total of 17 years as a Euro MP, deputy and minister, I want to end my public life representing the city whose citizens have honored me without regrets for so many years. Yet many say «Kaklamanis has decided to cash in on his popularity while he has time and before he is out of the line of fire.» I wouldn’t say City Hall is out of the line of fire. Dora Bakoyannis and Dimitris Avramopoulos were often subject to criticism, some of it heavy. But would you deny that the two ministers you mentioned, like their predecessor Miltiades Evert, probably saw the mayoralty as a springboard to improve their political careers? I made it clear from the outset that I am leaving government politics to go to Athens City Hall, I am not leaving in order to return. And that means that, if necessary, I will make unpleasant decisions which, however, I am convinced will benefit the majority. I don’t blame my predecessors, but have you seen any unpopular decisions about parking? Well, if Athenians give me their vote, I have no reason to count the political cost. Because after City Hall, I am committed to returning home, definitively and irrevocably. If you are elected in October will you try for a second four-year term? Yes, I won’t deny it. I’ll stay as long as my fellow citizens want me. On the condition, of course, that I feel that I have offered something significant to my city. Since when have you felt the desire to run for mayor? Before the elections I heard you describe the Culture Ministry as a challenge. It is, but a year ago I began to think it over. At one point I said to myself, «To be consistent with your beliefs, you must either stand for mayor or make it clear that you won’t go back into Parliament.» No, I can reveal that I told the prime minister about my desire to be a candidate long before I made it public. but he made me an unusual sort of hostage until December 21, 2005, when he invited me to Maximos Mansion to tell me he had accepted my «request.» The office of mayor of Athens is bound up with government funding. Have you asked the premier to boost your responsibilities if you are elected? I have not had a discussion with the premier yet, but I will do so soon, because there is not just the economic problem. What I hope to extract as my pre-election dowry – for the city, not for myself – is a complete clarification of the legal operational framework. It would be absurd for the City of Athens not to control only above-ground and not underground car parks, and not be able to intervene in Omonia Square. My aim is to bring back the demand to make Athens a metropolitan municipality, without invalidating the role of the regional municipal authorities. I shall discuss that with the prime minister and I look forward to laws solving many of the current problems before the October elections. For demolition? What are the three greatest problems facing Athens and what solutions have you in mind? It would be dishonest to say I have decided. I shall announce my platform in early September, after a thorough tour of all the suburbs of Athens, where I shall mainly listen to my fellow citizens. I favor a few, very specific and achievable goals. I won’t promise to to make Athens green. But I will say, for example, that we could transform the thousands of uncovered areas belonging to apartment blocks from trash heaps into gardens, with municipal funds and a commitment by residents to tend them. The problems are chronic, and I am looking seriously at some innovative proposals from the past. For example [late Athens mayor] Antonis Tritsis once said that any mayor who blew up three or four blocks in downtown Athens would do the city an inestimable service.