‘Piraeus gets better every day,’ claims the city’s mayor, Christos Agrapidis

Christos Agrapidis was discovered by New Democracy politician Andreas Adrianopoulos 20 years ago. He was elected to the Municipal Council of Piraeus and eventually became its president. In 1994, he objected to ND’s candidate and ran as an independent, winning 15 percent of the vote. In 1998 and 2002, he was elected mayor with an unprecedented lead for a candidate who was not from the center-left. He went into politics with a rebel spirit, got on well with the PASOK government of Costas Simitis – to the point of being misunderstood – and came to an arrangement to settle the debt of 152.9 million euros that he inherited in the run-down municipality. A low-key type, with eight years at the helm, he has put the municipality’s administration on a steady footing. With 9.4 million euros a year in debt repayment, it was not easy to implement the work he had planned. But he managed to stop the negative publicity about Piraeus and, as far as possible, to keep the city out of court where it faced repeated legal suits from creditors. He is aiming for a third four-year term of office so as to implement his vision for his native city. A gynecologist-obstetrician by profession, he says he is «not a professional mayor but an amateur of local government in the sense of making a contribution to fellow citizens.» It will not be easy for him to win a third term, for which there is no precedent in Piraeus. Knowledge will count in elections Are you worried about the expected candidacy of Panayiotis Fasoulas? Why should I worry? I think it’s reasonable that people like him. I like him too and recognize his positive qualities. But popularity is not enough to get someone elected mayor and for him to be a good mayor. Remember Melina Mercouri? Was there any more brilliant or more popular politician than Melina? But as a candidate for mayor, she failed completely. In the October elections, it is performance, knowledge and effectiveness that will count. They will count the consistency with which we serve local government in Piraeus as well as the sincerity of our intentions. And I think those comparisons will favor us. Besides, I think that’s why Fasoulas is not making his intentions public. He wants to have the shortest election campaign possible, so that there is no time for the comparisons to show up his weak points. ‘We have restored the city’s prestige’ You are standing for a third term of office, which would be a record for the city; why should the voters of Piraeus elect the same person a third time? First of all, I’m not the same. I’m wiser and I’m largely free of the debts that held me back. Piraeus gets better every day. Though some may try and disguise the truth, everyone remembers the state the city was in when we took over in 1999, what debt, scandals, strikes and filth there was. I’m not a miracle worker, but who can say they don’t see an improvement? That is why I hope our fellow citizens will support us again. Nobody will risk trusting the party that wrecked Piraeus a decade ago. They are the same people in different packaging. What changes have been made in Piraeus during your terms in office? A lot has changed. For a start, we have restored the city’s image and prestige. Piraeus was in a state of total disrepute when my colleagues and I took over. No municipal council in Greece took over under worse circumstances. By dint of continual work, we sorted out our finances. Now the Municipality of Piraeus is reliable, it has increased its revenues and curbed its operational expenditures. Cleanliness has improved dramatically. We made superhuman efforts to add more greenery to the city by creating parks – the Tinaneios, Themistokleios, Terpsitheas and Mari Square parks – as well as 23 new playgrounds. Unfortunately both local and central governments have built the city in concrete gray, as if we didn’t deserve any greenery. We’ve let them know that blue and green match just fine. We have succeeded in boosting cultural activities, and by that we mean the quality of life and not simply recreation. We have set up six new centers for the elderly, and new playschools and day nurseries. We have also founded a refuge for abused women, a shelter for the homeless and are starting a home help scheme. We have carried out the city’s largest-ever new school construction program, which solved the problem of schools working on two shifts in Piraeus. We have restored a large number of neoclassical buildings which were in ruins and are now an adornment to the city. Of course, there are areas where we haven’t done as well as we would have liked. But, overall, we have moved forward. Our promise to make Piraeus better every day is being carried out. A minority on your council reproaches you for «mere management.» Everyday management is the hardest thing in a large organization. Talk is easy; the hard thing is to tidy up the city, restore its prestige, and actually solve a series of problems. But the reproach is unjust. There has been significant progress on all the big issues that had been at a standstill. Tenders have been called for the Municipal Theater and it will be ready 670 days after the contract is signed. The Papadogiorgi Army Camp has been handed over to the municipality. A party that manages to get chronic problems solved and get things moving is not a mere manager. It has vision and a plan for Piraeus. The same goes for development in our city. If Piraeus becomes more beautiful, if its public transport improves, if its activities are lively, then economic development will come. There is no magic button for development.