Almeida and Villacís, liberal triennium with shocks in Madrid

José Luis Martínez-Almeida and Begoña Villacís closed three years ago, on June 15, 2019, one of the few coalition agreements between PP and Ciudadanos that still survives and that both make an effort to describe as "solid" and "cohesive" or even a "well-matched marriage". The municipal government celebrates its third anniversary marked, however, by constant tensions, with an orange formation in serious decline at the national level that the PP, for its part, has taken advantage of to launch a takeover bid and sign several of its leaders.

The government pact that returned the City Council to the right after the parenthesis of Manuela Carmena served to consolidate the desire of the then leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, to veto any with Pedro Sánchez's PSOE, and thus become on the 'crutch' of a PP in frank decline. Together with the one in the capital, PP and Ciudadanos agreed on coalitions in the Community of Madrid, in the Region of Murcia and in Castilla y León, as well as in several municipalities, as they had done shortly before in Andalusia.

Almeida, a then-unknown PP councilor, lost the elections to Carmena, but the left-wing forces – which had been very divided – failed to gain a majority. PP and Ciudadanos reached an agreement, but they needed the support of Vox for an alternative sum, which was already beginning to emerge with some force at that time. Although Villacís fled from the photo with the extreme right, the leader of the PP had no qualms about signing an investiture agreement on his behalf with the party led by Javier Ortega Smith in the city. Thanks to that support, he managed to take control of the capital's baton.

Since then, Almeida and Villacís have made an effort to offer the image of a working tandem, of a "solid, strong and cohesive" government. And so it was for a while: a coalition that set an example against the one that Isabel Díaz Ayuso maintained in the Community of Madrid with the regional leader of Ciudadanos, Ignacio Aguado, whom he never tolerated and who he got rid of as soon as he could.

In the middle of the mandate the pandemic arrived, which parked many of the Government's plans. Then Filomena put the finishing touches and uncovered the many deficiencies of public services in the capital, despite the fact that Almeida hung many medals for management. It was a parenthesis in which the mayor and the deputy mayor strove to get Madrid out of the quagmire and managed to agree with the opposition the historic Agreements of the Villa, a pact of 352 measures signed by all the groups of the Madrid City Council for the recovery of the city.

After the worst, it was soon found that this apparent idyll between the two mayors of the capital was not such. Although they personally appreciate each other and have always respected each other, according to what they say, friction and political discrepancies were beginning to be frequent, although they denied it from the outside. Especially since in August 2020 Almeida was appointed at the request of Pablo Casado national spokesman for his party. Both the opposition groups and their own government partners considered that the alderman began to worry more about national affairs than about the problems of Madrid.

Rupture of Ayuso with Citizens

But if there is a date marked in the history of these three years, it is March 10, 2021. The rupture of PP and Citizens in the Community of Madrid As the last collateral effect of the failed motion of censure in Murcia, but above all due to Ayuso's desire to capitalize on the wear and tear on the orange formation, he precipitated the early call for elections. The president came out of the polls reinforced and formed a government alone with the parliamentary support of Vox. Meanwhile, those of Inés Arrimadas were left without the 26 deputies they had in the Assembly, which fueled the quarrels between the two parties. With Ignacio Aguado out of action, all eyes were then directed towards Villacís and his pact with Almeida. But the two sold that what happened in the Community was not going to affect their agreement at all. A scenario far from reality.

The moments of tension between the two aldermen were in crescendo. Not only as a consequence of the hostile takeover bid against Ciudadanos that Genoa had already launched. In day-to-day management they have also maintained their differences due to some of the measures adopted by the Governing Board.

For example, due to the permits granted to hoteliers due to the pandemic in order to extend the time that terraces remain, despite the damage to residents due to the invaded parking spaces and the noise they generate. Ciudadanos was betting on extending the term, claiming that "there are things that are here to stay", but the PP was opposed.

Another of the most notorious clashes was carried out by the deputy mayor when anticipating the alderman to announce that Madrid was going to be a candidate to host the 2036 Olympic Games. Almeida, very annoyed by the "prominence" that his number two had wanted to give himself, denied it. Hours later, he himself confirmed the news.

Tension was also generated when last year Almeida decided not to place the Pride flag at City Hall. Villacís announced that it was possible to do so, but the mayor hid behind an interpretable Supreme Court ruling that prevents placing other flags next to the Spanish one on public buildings.

With everything, and despite these frictions, the two leaders continued to pretend "harmony", even throwing winks in public to chase away rumors of a 'divorce' that could lead to a motion of censure by Ciudadanos and the PSOE against the PP alderman . Rumors that Villacís herself has been dispelling over and over againassuring that she is "loyal" to the mayor and does not "betray" her partner despite the mistreatment that they have dispensed in the rest of the communities and in some municipalities where they closed alliances in 2019. From both parts of the Government they insist on that it is about “specific” and “normal” discrepancies between a coalition formed by “two different parties”.

Rupture with Vox and rapprochement with the dissidents of Más Madrid

Another moment that has marked these three years of government has been Almeida's break with Vox, his priority partners during the first two years of his mandate. The refusal of the extreme right to approve the mobility ordinance that buried Madrid Central, one of Manuela Carmena's star projects, opened the door for Villacís to explore a rapprochement with the splinters of Más Madrid, brought together in a new platform, Recupera Madrid , led by Marta Higueras. The decision of the PP and Ciudadanos to support the formation of the Mixed Group to give shelter to these wayward mayors unleashed the war in Cibeles. More Madrid accused Almeida of paying him "the favor" in this way and appealed the decision to the courts, as did Vox. But thanks to that unexpected alliance, Almeida and Villacís guaranteed that they could also close the budgets for 2022 and the new terrace ordinance.

A little over a year before the new municipal elections, everything seemed to be on track for Almeida and Villacís. However, the apparent internal calm was cut short when the scandal of the alleged espionage of Isabel Díaz Ayuso broke out due to the health contracts granted to companies linked to her brother, Tomás de Ella. The case caused those of Higueras to turn against the mayor, and also revived mistrust on the part of Villacís. The deputy mayor did not hide her anger when she found out about everything in the press and regretted that the councilor had not informed her "of anything."

The Ciudadanos leader then accepted the challenge launched by Más Madrid and the PSOE to chair an investigation commission to clarify the facts, while, hurt, she demanded "transparency" from Almeida, also asking her party, the PP, "not to put the hands in the Madrid City Council”. Rumors of a possible motion of censure resurfaced again, but Villacís ruled it out again despite pressure from the Mixed Group, which has not stopped demanding it all this time. One of the theories spread was that the deputy mayor asked for the head of Ángel Carromero in exchange for not unseating the mayor. "I never threatened with a motion of censure. Before Carromero was dismissed, I already said that this possibility was not on the table," the leader defended herself. In the midst of this case, a little over a month ago, Almeida and Villacís were seen eating together on a terrace in Madrid to smooth things over.

Villacís agrees with Más Madrid and PSOE the opinion of the investigation commission

Since then everything has gone from bad to worse. The outbreak of the mask scam and the millionaire commissions charged by businessmen Luis Medina and Alberto Luceño, which the Prosecutor's Office is investigating, has only aggravated the tension between an Almeida cornered by the opposition and Villacís. Especially after the deputy mayor agreed to agree with Más Madrid and PSOE the conclusions of the investigation commission of the alleged espionage to Ayuso, in which two councilors of the highest confidence of the mayor -Borja Carabante and Álvaro González- are pointed out for their "malpractice". At the last press conference in which Almeida appeared, Villacís was not present. The mayor justified it in that "he had another act" and "you cannot be in two places at the same time." But the bad atmosphere in the Governing Board was palpable after this decision by the deputy mayor. Municipal sources acknowledge that Carabante and she exchanged some reproaches at that meeting because the person in charge of Mobility and the Environment had not fit in well that the leader of Ciudadanos joined the opposition to point him out.

Curiously, one day before the agreement of Más Madrid, PSOE and Ciudadanos was known, At an informative breakfast organized by Europa Press, Almeida was full of praise for Villacíswhich he thanked for the joint work in these "three turbulent political and management years" to place the capital "in its rightful place, the league of the best cities." "I have the marriage that I have not had in my real life", ironically the alderman, to later confess that he was "very comfortable" governing with those of Arrimadas.

Gone now are the jokes and also the denials of the Ciudadanos leader about the alleged offers of the PP to go on Almeida's lists. “Jokingly, yes, they have asked me, but not seriously”, Villacís has confessed, who always insists that “he is not going to go to the PP”, although at the same time he has recognized that despite his disappointments, “a today, I would repeat a government with Almeida".

The problem is that the leader of Ciudadanos is facing a dark panorama, with her party on the verge of disappearance in Andalusia and possibly in the City Council of the capital, where the polls give her four councilors compared to the current eleven. The best asset that Villacís has is that she is one of the leaders best valued by the people of Madrid.

Almeida has already been ratified by Feijóo to repeat in the Madrid municipal cartel. Now the only unknown that remains to be cleared up is whether Villacís will accept the challenge of being the Ciudadanos candidate again in 2023, as Arrimadas will surely ask her, whether she will go home to return to 'civilian life' or if he betrays his word and joins the party of his government partner.

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