“I SUPPOSE my heavy metal days are now pretty much behind me,” Marbella’s new mayor Jose Bernal admits with a long Ozzy Osbourne-style cackle.
“But I’m never going to forget my favourite band AC/DC and will never throw away my treasured concert T-shirt.”
It is one of several light-hearted moments during a drink with the new socialist charge, where I momentarily forget I am interviewing the coast’s hottest new politician, not an old friend.
From chatting football to whistling the Monty Python Life of Brian theme, a film he watches at least once a year ‘because it’s the greatest ever made’, Jose comes across as a very normal bloke.
Although ‘normal’ is a discredit in many ways. His impeccable taste in pop culture alone elevates him, with favourite film La Vida Es Bella and preferred read Love in the Time of Cholera being two cases in point.
Bernal – or ‘Pepe’ as he insists I call him – is only slightly embarrassed to admit he supports Malaga CF (‘and Marbella, honest’) and Sunday football matches are etched in his Leganitos-based childhood memories.
In fact, politics is (hopefully) lucky to have him, since nearly all of his relatives, with his father, uncle, cousin and nephew all having played professionally or semi-professionally.
I was expecting to meet the new mayor, who got into power last month through a pact with three other parties, at his office. But, I am soon being dragged out to a leafy cafe, appropriately in the town’s central Plaza de los Naranjos.
This seems to be his way of doing things.
Open and friendly, Bernal is clearly a sociable and popular character, who grew up in Marbella and has a busy social life there.
It quickly becomes apparent that he is a man of many interests and is, clearly, quite different to the cabal of politicians who came before him.
For starters he lists his favourite pastime as walking in the nearby countryside with his wife and three-year-old son whom he regrets seeing less of due to the new post.
Secondly, he has visited a number of global cities, including London, plans a five-day trip to Italy this summer and insists that he is going to get his level of English up, having just started a series of classes.
Forget his work dinner with Eva Longoria (in Marbs for one night only) because, if he’s brutally honest, the mayor happily admits ‘I’d much rather spend the evening with a group of friends’.
But since he picked up the mantle of pulling Marbella out of decades of the very worst institutionalised corruption, Bernal hasn’t had much of a chance to enjoy his hobbies.
So seriously is he taking his new role, the 40-year-old is averaging just four hours sleep per night.
“And that’s when I can get to sleep – with responsibility as big as this comes adrenaline and there are days when your body is shattered but your mind simply doesn’t stop,” he says.
However with a strong support network (I meet his father-in-law fleetingly who insists on paying the tab), good intentions and ‘absolutely no illusions’, he is as well-placed as any to handle the job.
It has certainly been a stressful couple of months particularly as he was anything but a dead cert to land the job.
While his bitter rivals, the PP party and the former mayor Angeles Munoz won 14 seats, the PSOE was forced to pact with Costa del Sol Si Puede, the IU and OSP in San Pedro to get into power.
It was anything but easy, with, in particular, Bernal having to spend many days attempting to woo OSP leader Manuel Osorio with the offer of San Pedro mayor.
It is the first time in 24 years that the socialists have been in power in Marbella and brings eight years of PP control to an end.
It is fair to say that massive change is in the air.
One of his first moves was to send Munoz’s five bodyguards (‘yes, five’) back to roles in the police force from where they came from previously fighting domestic violence and robberies.
“I just think it’s far more important for the city’s safety and if a crazy person wants to harm me… well, I’ll be ready,” he says.
But that is not the only change he has made.
He’s also scrapped the former mayor’s car in favour of a vehicle available to any town hall member who should need it – even the opposition!
He has also cancelled the PP’s six parking spaces which cost the taxpayer a cool €20,000 per year, as well as an unpopular plan to build the new San Pedro bus station just 13 metres from a school.
“We don’t yet know what the space will be used for but we will be led by parents participating.”
And that isn’t all.
He has already made steps to remove all traces of former dictator Franco, and is introducing new rules on transparency and integrity, which are ‘numbers one and two’on his agenda.
This starts with publishing his new salary, which will be €53,000 per year before tax – 2,000 less than his predecessor – and ‘not a cent more’.
Last, but not least, I ask him about what he plans to do for the huge numbers of expats who live within his town.
“The Guiris are everything,” he says, without a second’s thought. “Previous mayors just wanted foreigners to get enrolled in the town to boost the numbers and get more public money to spend… but we want to take care of them.”
Pepe, we will mark your words!
Too bad his PSOE colleagues at the Junta de Andalucia do not feel the same way. Their idea of ‘looking after foreigners’ was to demolish their homes. We may have had a welcome legal breakthrough on this recently but the Priors are still living in their garage without any meaningful compensation. I would like to hear his views on that.
Don’t you ever have anything nice to say Jane. This guy is doing his best and maybe will change others for the better but your reply has nothing to do with the article. Maybe you should sing “Always look on the bright side of life” each morning.
Don’t try to spoil the fun John. No matter what the story, some commenters will always find some reason to do a bit of Spanish Bashing. It’s what they live for :)
You’ve walked right into that one John! Sticking with the subject of newly elected mayors, I think you will find that I was most complimentary in my post about the new mayor of Alcaucin. I do indeed say “nice” (as you put it) things when appropriate – it always pays to do a little homework and you may wish to refer to the article.
The mayor in this particular article put himself on offer when he said “foreigners are everything”. It is legitimate to challenge a statement like that when it comes from a member of PSOE, the very party who run the Junta de Andalucia and who are responsible for the demolitions and legal uncertainties which have ruined the lives of many foreigners for years.