THE MOMENT Marián Kočner said he was running for Bratislava mayor, you just knew it was going to be a fun race. On the one hand is the stiff and somewhat nerdy incumbent, Andrej Ďurkovský, who by all accounts has done a wonderful job of patching up the Old Town. And on the other hand are five challengers, including Kočner, who drives a Porsche, is fond of chains and open-necked shirts, and holds court in the Crowne Plaza as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.
"My mother raised me to tell the truth and to do good," he says, and, well, if you believe that, you'll also believe that corruption in this country is less widespread than it was eight years ago, and that every cent of the 11 billion euros the EU will be sending Slovakia's way over the next six years will be invested wisely.
Never before have municipal governments held as much power as they do now, or controlled as much money. It's thus no susprise that people with "controversial" backgrounds have been motivated to run for office in 2006, with the pickings so good.
Marián Kočner is not a crook - his criminal record is clean - but he employed now deceased underworld boss Peter Čongrády in 1998 to provide security during his attempt to take over the Markíza TV station, and was close friends with former Economy Minister Ján Ducký, who was shot dead in 1999 after signing billions of crowns in allegedly fraudulent IOUs on the account of the SPP company. He claims to uphold the law, but when his friends and business associates break the rules to build luxury condos, he blames everything on bureaucratic delays.
"Politicians" like Kočner are entertaining until they win office. Then they become a threat that has to be taken seriously.
In the Lamač suburb of Bratislava, Martin Rehák, the son of prominent businessman Ladislav Rehák, is also running for a council seat in the December 2 elections. Rehák Jr's name was included on a list of "interesting persons" reputedly with mafia contacts that was prepared by the police but leaked in 2004. His "crime" was apparently his association with Juraj Ondrejkovič, nicknamed Piťo, who is allegedly the head of the strongest Bratislava mafia group. His father told the SPEX magazine earlier this year that "they're just friends who grew up together. Unfortunately, you can never escape your friends."
Unfortunately, the "friends" that politicians- even those only running for a seat on local council - associate with can and should be a yardstick by which their fitness for office is judged. Given that local elections are less about policy and more about individuals than national politics, it is essential that the individuals who run for office have clean backgrounds, not just clean records.
Even if their mothers did raise them to do good.
By Tom Nicholson