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The Mayor of Thessaloniki proclaimed Mayor of the Month for October 2012 in international internet vote

MK TR GR

Yiannis Boutaris, the Mayor of Greece’s second largest city (just over 1 million inhabitants) has been voted by open public voting via the website citymayors.com as best Mayor for the month October 2012.

During the previous months this place was granted respectively to the Mayors of London and New York.

Yiannis Boutaris

The case of Mr Boutaris is an exceptional one indeed given both the financial and the party-political crisis in Greece.  As the website mentions, since his voting in 2010, his sound financial management of the city’s once impoverished budget as well as his distance from party-political affiliations to what concerns getting down to do a Mayor’s actual work has turned Thessaloniki into a model town in many ways. A focal point of interest in his politics has been to acknowledge and promote Thessaloniki’s multi-cultural past, improving relations with neighboring Balkan countries and respective municipalities via active public-private entrepreneurial and cultural cooperation.

Such initiatives include the signing of a tourism, culture and educational agreement with Vladimir Taleski, mayor of Bitola (Monastiri) in Republic of Macedonia; the re-connection of Thessaloniki with Turkish cities via common agreements with Turkish Airlines, as well as the establishment of positive grounds for the active promotion of trade and tourism with Bulgaria, Israel, Albania and Russia.

Thessaloniki

Mayor Boutaris was born in Thessaloniki in 1942 into a family of wine industrialists, a career which he successfully pursuit himself after receiving his degree in Enology from Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki. The family business split in 1997 and he went on establishing his own brand (Kyr-Yiannis), now a leading company in the Greek market, using quality viniculture techniques for local grape varieties. The business is now run by his son Stelios.

A member of the City Council since 2002, he’d been previously known for his most successful nature and cultural heritage conservation efforts in regions beyond his constituency, including the founding of an environmental NGO (“Arktouros”) for the protection of Greece’s last remaining bears and wolves in the forests of the country’s region of western Macedonia. A sui generis personality, ex-alcoholic, internationalist, tattooed, ear- pierced and business pragmatist combined, the current Mayor of Thessaloniki is known for his casual relation with the citizens, his simple lifestyle and his straightforwardness in publicly addressing the entire spectrum of the Greek establishment – most notably the powerful city’s Archbishop over intervention of the Church into electoral affairs prior to his vote. Existing regulations which allow the cremation of the dead (contrary to Greek-Orthodox religious regulations) have been actively promoted by himself personally.  He recently didn’t hesitate to declare that at least half of the leaders of the emerging Neo-Nazi party (Golden Dawn) should be in prison.

As the site mentions, as far back as the 1950’s Thessaloniki has been a stronghold of nationalist and conservative political forces. The previous centre-right administration that had lasted for decades ended in prosecution over 30 million Euros of missing funds. Yiannis Boutaris election marks a turning point in local and national politics alike. Although he was elected (by a very close vote difference) with one of Greece’s traditional parties (centre-left PASOK) he took an independent stance concerning such tradition of party-political bonding. Given the current crisis, restricted money coming from state was even used as an argument by Boutaris promoting his cause in every step so far. Right from the start, he appointed deputies much younger than him, based on their professional experience and without political affiliations, who in turn proceeded into a radical plan of administrational reform, simplifying procedures and evaluating staff performance.

www.optionyard.com

Mayor Boutaris has been quoted in saying “I do not try to control everything. I support the efforts of each individual deputy and push them towards the goals we have decided.” One of the deputies is Hasdai Kapan who is the first Jewish official to be in such a senior position in the city since the 1930s.

Salonico

On 2012, the City is commemorating a centennial as part the modern Greek state. Instead of raising tunes of nationalism, the Municipality launched a very original campaign of opening up to Balkan neighbors, while advertising the city as a sustainable entrepreneurial, touristic and cultural “product”. Moreover, history is being re-considered and investigated through a new scope of discovering past and present identities, using the city’s academic and media centres, promoting the academic contribution of intellectuals and students from neighboring Balkan countries.

Greece is a centralized state (modeled after the French system) and local administration largely depends on funds coming from Athens. In circumstances of national economy crisis, Mayor Boutaris has been praised by colleagues of his in Europe, as well as a number of European Union officials, including the ones monitoring the country’s financial affairs, for realistically simplifying administrational organization and staff costs in his realm, while improving municipal services for the citizens. This largely means facing long-existing corruption and bureaucracy. His first action when in office was to call for audit into the city’s finances, which confirmed debts of around 100 million euros. In 2011 the budget deficit, which has doubled every year, dropped by 7.5 per cent. Expenditure was down by 30 per cent. As citymayors.com reports, for 2012 the budget was 409 million euros, still a very tight budget with no money coming in unless the city itself acts upon own fundraising as pending problems persist (such as garbage collection and management, the Thessaloniki metro, a.o.).

“Small is beautiful,” says Yiannis Boutaris. “Greeks should focus on the little things that they know well and then produce these at excellent quality. We don’t sell ourselves and our products well enough.” Boutaris’ framework of action, according to him, is the right one to (as simple as that) “bring money into the city”.

Sophia Nikolaou

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