09 July 2006

Tomato King captures congress seat

Andres Bermudez, the migrant-turned-millionaire mayor of Jerez, Zacatecas, won a congressional seat for the National Action Party (PAN) last Sunday, but leaves behind a scandal-plagued administration in his hometown, a city of 60,000 - a five-hour drive north of Guadalajara.

Bermudez, who invented a device for planting tomatoes while living in Northern California, earned the name, "The Tomato King," and returned triumphantly to Jerez in 2004, claiming the mayor's office. (He ran and won in 2001, but was disqualified for not meeting the state's residency requirements.) He originally ran for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which holds most of the municipal governments and the governor's office, in Zacatecas, but was not nominated in 2004. Bermudez later took Jerez for the PAN, the state's least-popular party. (In justifying his opposition to the PRD, he cited the influx of power-hungry priistas into the party as problematic during a Grupo Milenio interview last week.)

I interviewed Bermudez last December, shortly after several city councilors declared a hunger strike and protestors blocking access to city hall were removed. He's a larger-than-life character, who makes time for the foreign press. Local journalists, though, tell stories of intimidation and abuse of power. He's probably not the reformer he claims to be and leaves a mixed legacy in Jerez.

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