The son of Lithuanian immigrants, he left his post as the dean of the National University of Colombia in Bogotá in 1993, and later that year ran a successful campaign for mayor. He proceeded to preside over Bogotá as mayor for two (non-consecutive) terms, during which he became known for springing surprising and humorous initiatives upon the city’s inhabitants. These tended to involve grand gestures, including local artists or personal appearances by the mayor himself — taking a shower in a commercial about conserving water, or walking the streets dressed in spandex and a cape as Supercitizen.On the 14th of March he was elected in a public consultation as the Colombian Green Party candidate for the presidential election in 2010.
On April 4, 2010, Antanas Mockus teamed up with Medellín’s former mayor Sergio Fajardo, choosing Fajardo as his vice-presidential running mate. On April 9, 2010 he announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He told La W radio: “The prediction is that this will not affect my mental activities. I think it is absolutely fitting to tell the people about the diagnosis and about the prognosis — which is 12 years or more of normal life thanks to medication.” Mockus and Juan Manuel Santos polled almost equally but Santos led in the election, which will be followed by a runoff.
Mockus was born in Bogotá. He holds a 1972 Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France and a 1988 Master of Arts degree in philosophy from the National University of Colombia. He has been a professor and researcher at the university since 1975 and has served as its vice president (1988–1991) and president (1991–1993). As its president, he contributed to the formulation of the Colombian Constitution of 1991, focusing on educational issues.
Bogotá mayorship and presidential bid
Under Mockus’s leadership, Bogotá saw improvements such as: water usage dropped 40%, 7000 community security groups were formed and the homicide rate fell 70%, traffic fatalities dropped by over 50%, drinking water was provided to all homes (up from 79% in 1993), and sewerage was provided to 95% of homes (up from 71%). When he asked residents to pay a voluntary extra 10% in taxes, 63,000 people did so. His market-oriented social policies were much less successful. Poverty and unemployment levels were high throughout his tenures and continue to be a pressing issue in Bogotá’s social life.
Famous initiatives included hiring 420 mimes to make fun of traffic violators, because he believed Colombians were more afraid of being ridiculed than fined. He also put in place one “Women’s Night”, on which the city’s men were asked to stay home for an evening to look after the house and the children. The city sponsored free open-air concerts, bars offered women-only specials, Ciclovia and the city’s women police were in charge of keeping the peace. His initiatives to reduce violence by engaging citizens in civil resistance against violence were as original as successful. He successfully combined showmanship, fiscal discipline and heavy reliance on punitive measures. Amassing political support mainly from Bogotá’s middle and upper classes, he has been much less successful attracting voters in the national level. In the past Presidential elections in 2006 he won less than two hundred thousand votes, less than 5 percent of the votes.
In between his two terms as mayor, Mockus ran an unsuccessful 1998 bid for the presidency, first in his own name and later as Noemí Sanín Posada‘s running mate. In the meanwhile, Enrique Peñalosa replaced him as mayor. Peñalosa worked in a similarly way instituting popular new bike paths and bus systems. When Mockus ran again for the 2001 mayorship, he held a ceremony in a public fountain “to ask forgiveness for leaving the mayor’s office in an unsuccessful bid for the presidency.”
The impact of Mockus and Peñalosa on the development of Bogotá is described in a documentary film released in October 2009 with the title CITIES ON SPEED – Bogotá Change. It is promoted as being “the story of two charismatic mayors, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa who, with unorthodox methods, in less than 10 years turned one of the world’s most dangerous, violent and corrupt capitals into a peaceful model city populated by caring citizens. With Mockus and Peñalosa and key members of their staff as first hand witnesses, the film uncovers the ideas, philosophies and strategies that underlie the changes in Bogotá and which are now being exported to cities worldwide.”
In 2003 Mockus stepped down as mayor, to be replaced by Luis Eduardo Garzón, and took a year’s sabbatical, travelling and speaking around the world. He planned to return to teaching at CNU the following year, although he said he was “considering the possibility of launching a presidential campaign”.
After spending two weeks as a visiting fellow at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the United States in 2004, “to share lessons about civic engagement with students and faculty”, Mockus returned to Harvard as a Visiting Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures to teach two Spanish classes during the Fall 2004-2005 semester. In November, Mockus made a special trip to the University of Virginia to speak about the use of positive social mechanisms in relation to his tenure as the mayor of Bogotá.
In 2004 Lithuanian worldwide daily Draugas chose Mockus as Lithuanian of the Year. In October, 2004 he for the first time visited Lithuanian community in Chicago, Illinois, which is the biggest Lithuanian community outside the Republic of Lithuania, and delivered a speech in his native Lithuanian language.
He is currently the President of Corpovisionarios, an organization that consults to cities about addressing their problems through the same policy methodology that was so successful during his terms as Mayor of Bogotá.
In August 2009, Mockus and two other past mayors of Bogotá (Peñalosa and Garzón) joined a new political movement, Colombian Green Party and decided that one of them would run for office in the 2010 Colombian presidential elections. Mockus, Peñalosa and Garzón embarked in a very innovative campaign, in which they acknowledged and honored each other’s qualifications and preparedness for the job, and telling people to choose whomever they liked best. Through a popular consultation carried on March 14, 2010, which he amply won, Mockus became the Colombian Green Party presidential candidate. On April 4, 2010, Antanas Mockus teamed up with Medellín’s former mayor Sergio Fajardo, choosing Fajardo as his vicepresidential formula which signified the unification of two groups at the center of the political spectrum.