Another run in Croatia Miksic to try for mayor of Zagreb
BY MARY BAUER
Posted on Thu, Apr. 07, 2005
Imagine if, after losing the presidency by a hair's breadth, Al Gore had run for the mayor of New York. A consolation prize for sure, but being mayor of the nation's largest city would keep him in the public eye.
Which is what Boris Miksic of North Oaks is banking on as he seeks the mayor's office in Zagreb, Croatia.
"I'm going to shake them up one more time really good," said Miksic last week from his White Bear Township-based business, Cortec.
The political bug has bitten Miksic hard. A few months ago, he swore that his campaign for the Croatian presidency was his last run for public office in his homeland. Miksic, who has citizenship in the United States and Croatia, also has sought a seat in the nation's parliament.
But the heady course of the January presidential election — he lost a place in the runoff by 2 percentage points — has galvanized him, and it's on to Zagreb.
And it turns out that "Mayor Miksic" might not be as far-fetched as "President Miksic."
"He stands a very good chance because his charisma did win over some of the people in Zagreb," said Steve Zakic, external affairs director with the Croatian American Association in Chicago.
Zagreb was one of Miksic's strongholds in the presidential election, and his close call gained him notoriety, said Ante Cuvalo, a professor at Joliet Junior College in Illinois who has written extensively about Croatian politics.
"If he didn't get so many votes in the national election, he wouldn't be running at all," Cuvalo said.
Other factors weigh in Miksic's favor. Now he has the name recognition he lacked before, and he'll get more free media coverage this time around, Zakic said.
Voters have had time to sort through negative post-presidential news reports, in which Croatian media pounced on his personal life and business claims. Cuvalo said that from the letters to the editor in Croatian newspapers, people assume the major parties orchestrated a smear campaign.
"They were surprised he did so well, so in a sense he became a threat."
The fact that Miksic is an independent still weighs in his favor. That attracted voters in the national level, Cuvalo said, not just as a protest vote, but for more concrete reasons.
Under the Croatian political system, people vote for an entire slate of candidates at one time, called a party's list.
The system, Cuvalo said, robs voters of a connection to their elected officials. When they vote, they have no idea who their local officials will be. Miksic puts a dynamic face to the elections, he said.
"He was a breath of fresh air precisely because of party politics," Cuvalo said. "They don't vote for individuals, they vote for parties."
That's why Miksic decided against forming a party and will run in the territorial election as the leader of an independent group.
He has gathered about 20 independents aligned with his economic and political reform goals who are willing to take up positions if he wins.
And if he wins, he'll take the job as Zagreb's mayor and assign allies to key offices in territorial and city offices all over the country. That will position him for another run at the presidency in 2010.
"He's using this as a springboard, which would help him enormously," Zakic said.
And as Croatia's capital and largest city, being the mayor of Zagreb is not exactly a comedown, Zakic and Cuvalo said.
"He'll become a household word," Zakic said, "because every time the mayor does something, it's in the papers."
Miksic still faces an uphill battle. Cuvalo predicted another spew of bad press, perhaps worse than before.
"He will have a tough time," Cuvalo said. "(The parties) are going to do anything they can to marginalize him."
That doesn't bother Miksic. He's ready for whatever his opponents throw at him. He feels vindicated by reports from an independent election-monitoring group, GONG, which found that while the elections were largely fair, there were serious problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He said he couldn't turn his back on the voters, whom he said he stirred from "a state of political apathy."
That makes another run at office a goal in and of itself. "People have nothing to look forward to," he said.
He likes the idea of returning to his birthplace — he would be the first mayor of Zagreb who was born there since the country's independence. But largely, he sees the mayor's office as a doorway to national office. He wants to stop the sell-off of national resources and banks to outsiders and to curb political corruption.
"If we continue this way," he said, "we don't have control of our destiny."
Mary Bauer can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-5311.