Mayor of Plovdiv: I Want to Live up to People’s Expectations
The Mayor of Plovdiv Zdravko Dimitrov-Ziko has been in politics for long and can be defined as a political veteran. His posture is remarkable (he's a former basketball player) as well as his rhetoric and his unwavering standwhen it comes to taking decisions and actions. Being the mayor of the second largest city in our country is no easy task. Especially when you have to deal with sore infrastructure problems, when the municipal council is unpredictable, the sports community impatient, the finances limited, and on top of that – the coronavirus has hit you hard. Novinite.bg asked Zdravko Dimitrov to clarify what will happen in Plovdiv in 2021, how he assesses his tenure so far and what are the challenges facing him and his administration.
- Mr. Dimitrov, Plovdiv is a millennial city and its inhabitants have special self-esteem – they are very demanding and this explains their high expectations for the mayor. Does that weigh on you or motivate you?
- It's both great motivation and a burden. It is also a responsibility – to live up to the expectations of those people who voted for me as mayor, and to show those who have not trusted me during the election that you are the right person who will be useful to this city and work towards its prosperity. That is why I and my team strive to do the best for Plovdiv, despite the difficult times.
- In the past 15 months as Plovdiv mayor, you and your supporters in the municipality have been subjected to serious criticism – for a bloated administration, for lack of initiative in winning European projects, for not dealing with the municipal veterans who are predominantly from your GERB party, but often challenge your decisions…
- At this point I would like to say that in 2020 investments worth BGN 220 million were raised in Plovdiv. And this is in a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has plagued the world and when economic forecasts everywhere have been refuted by these unforeseen circumstances. This figure does not include more than BGN 80 million, which are part of the water cycle of Plovdiv and which will practically also remain in the city. As for the debates with the municipal councillors – I think this is for the benefit of the city. You know that under previous mayor’s tenure the councillors were accused of being the "rubber stamp" of Ivan Totev. Now there is a discussion, there is debate, no one-man solutions are imposed and I think that is what democracy is about.
- It is worthy of note that a portrait of the Metropolitan of Plovdiv Nikolai takes a prominent place in your office. Did your faith help you in the difficult months when you personally fought a battle for life against the coronavirus?
- Of course - it's no secret that I'm a believer. In my office there is a portrait not only of the Metropolitan of Plovdiv, I have also pictures of my family, as you can see. They, like my faith, help me through the most difficult moments, as it was in the severe test with the virus.
Did you have to leave the hospital when you were still sick and the Prime Minister came to see you?
- Absolutely yes. And now, if I had to, I'd go out again. After all, Prime Minister Borisov did not visit everyone, and he wanted to see me. I didn't leave the perimeter of the ward, I was taken out in a wheelchair in front of it. Before that, we discussed with the Prime Minister the option of talking through the window, but that was the worse option.
- How is Plovdiv doing in the context of a pandemic and why one of the hospitals was not converted into a COVID clinic as was planned?
-In the first phase of the pandemic Plovdiv was one of the examples of a city successfully dealing with the pandemic. Later, when the second wave occurred, it became clear that additional beds were needed for the Covid patients and St. Mina Hospital had to be equipped with them. However, the pressure on the health system was very tangible and the staff problem still weighed on the hospital management. By the way, if you remember, this was also the topic of that conversation with Prime Minister Borisov when he came to visit me in the hospital.
Does your close friendship with the Prime Minister help or is it a hindrance in managing the city?
- It definitely helps. Not only in the last year, but before that, good things were happening in Plovdiv and the region, thanks to the support we have from the Prime Minister. Not to mention all of them, because I will probably miss something, but even if we only mention the new Asenovgrad road with the roundabouts, where there is not one dead motorist after its launch, it is not unimportant. Let's also remember that the government gave up buying a new service aircraft and redirected these funds for the two stadiums in Plovdiv – Hristo Botev and Lokomotiv.
- Talking of sports - you are a former basketball player, and it is no secret that the sports facilities in Plovdiv is among the priorities listed in your election platform. More precisely – what happens with the construction of the Hristo Botev Stadium, an “open wound“ in the center of the city? Rumour goes that the money allocated by the cabinet will not be enough to complete the construction, for new seats and other mandatory equipment?
- The contractor company assured me that everything necessary will be done on time and the stadium will be completed in a form that meets the requirements for holding domestic championship matches in the first place. Already the initial estimates showed that the funds would not be enough for the full completion of the stadium, but this will happen at a later stage.
- How would you respond to the fans of the other Plovdiv grand – Locomotiv sports club, which was also subsidized by the government, but recently they again complained that they were not treated on equal footing when it comes to funding?
-It's important for me as mayor that both stadiums are completed and look like modern sports facilities. As a person, I can sympathize with one team (i.e. Botev) or the other, but as the mayor of the city I want Plovdiv to have two modern sports facilities so that the supporters of both Plovdiv leading teams can have amenities and the opportunity to enjoy exciting meetings at their stadiums. It was clear how the funds will be distributed already when the Prime Minister allocated them and all were aware of it.
- The citizens of Plovdiv are most interested in the "Modar-Tsarevets" underpass which would significantly ease traffic throughout the city. Is there any progress in the project which some have said was impossible to implement? And will the municipality take an additional loan to build it?
- Work has already begun on the construction of this road link, on January 7 we made a symbolic ground-breaking on the southern part of the site and now the clearing of the construction site is underway. The funds for the first span of "Modar-"Tsarevets", which will be doubling the lanes of Modar Street, are BGN 4.5 million and are envisioned in the budget of Plovdiv municipality for 2021. The total amount for the connection is BGN 11.5 million, VAT included, and so far it is planned to be built with budget funds, so it is also deferred for three consecutive years. Of course, if a loan is withdrawn from the Fund of Funds, which has expressed willingness to finance this construction, we will build it faster, and the funds will be redirected to other important infrastructure projects in the city.
- On what terms are you with Ivan Totev,the former mayor and city GERB leader?
- Our relationship with Ivan Totev is completely normal and collegial. He is focused on his duties as regional coordinator of GERB party, I – on the mayor's.
- Would you describe in brief your opinion of the current regional governor – Dany Kanazireva, who succeeded you in office and is quite active?
-I don't usually like to comment on others. Everyone has to do their job and people should appreciate them for what they've done. I think the figures speak for themselves.
The government survived after months of fair anger and protests. Have you heard the demands of young people and what is your forecast for the upcoming parliamentary vote?
- GERB will definitely win the upcoming elections and will be again the first political force. I see what the government has done in the face of an unprecedented crisis and I'm sure people see and appreciate it as well. However, I do not know how the parliament will be configured after the election and I am sure that even sociologists cannot predict it as of yet.
- What would you say to the citizens of Varna who challenge Plovdiv's position as the second largest city in Bulgaria? Both as population size and business climate?
-I have already told you about the investments raised in Plovdiv for the last year. Let's not forget that Plovdiv municipality is limited by the municipalities of Maritsa and Rhodopes artificially created years ago and there is no possibility to develop beyond the city limits. Yet, as regards business climate, our city is not worse than Varna. And if these municipalities go back to Plovdiv, as would be right, then anyone can imagine what our municipality will be like both in population size, investments and business climate.
- Do people stop you when you walk the streets and what is your favorite place in Plovdiv, outside your home?
-They're stopping me, of course. Even before I got into politics, I was a sociable person, I have a lot of friends. Apart from this, I do not hide, I love to walk in the center or along the Rowing Base. Besides, I'm tall - and if I want to I can't be incognito among people. They stop me, we talk, some share their problems, some say hello - all normal things. I love the walks at the Rowing Base, I love the Plovdiv hills and the Old Town. I like going out with my family, going to the theater or a concert. I'm a normal person, and in Plovdiv you really have a lot of places to walk around.
Author: Stefan Markov, Novinite.bg
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