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De la Torre and Vázquez, during their meeting in the Salón de los Espejos. Salvador Salas
Never too old or too young: Malaga province mayors at 81 and 29
Politics

Never too old or too young: Malaga province mayors at 81 and 29

SUR brings together these two council leaders, Francisco de la Torre of Malaga city, and Isabel Vázquez of Igualeja, the oldest and youngest mayors in the province

Antonio M. Romero

Friday, 10 May 2024, 15:13

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Francisco de la Torre and Isabel Vázquez had never met until SUR got them together last week. They had both been invited to a meeting, hosted in Malaga's city hall, in their capacity as the oldest and youngest mayors in the province to share their thoughts on their experiences in office to date. Their profiles are very different. At 81 years of age and on his way to a quarter of a century at the head of the council in Malaga city, De la Torre has had a long career in public office. In contrast, Vázquez, 29, became mayor of Igualeja following the municipal elections in May 2023 - this was her debut in the world of politics. One is in charge of a coastal city with a population of 586,384, while the other heads up a white village in the Genal valley, in the heart of the Serranía de Ronda, where there are just 774 registered residents. A little over 100 kilometres separate the two municipalities by road, but what they both have in common is their enthusiasm and passion for the places they call home.

A copy of the painting El Fusilamiento de Torrijos by Antonio Gisbert, which hangs on the wall in the reception area to the mayor's office in the city hall, bore witness to the greetings exchanged between the host, De la Torre (born in 1942 in Malaga), and Vázquez (born in 1994 in Igualeja).

She was accompanied by several colleagues from her party, the independent group Por Mi Pueblo, including party leader and mayor of Ojén, Juan Merino. After these official greetings, the host showed his main guest the chamber where he chairs council meetings and then the Salón de los Espejos (Hall of Mirrors), where they had a cordial chat for forty minutes.

How they started out in politics, their relationship with local residents and education were among the subjects discussed

The conversation began with Malaga's mayor reminiscing about his beginnings in politics. Francisco de la Torre recalled that it all started with his membership of the Association of Friends of the University. This association fought in the late sixties for Malaga to have its own centre for higher education. That provided him his gateway into politics. Since then he has been president of the provincial authority, deputy for the UCD (a coalition of centre-ground politicians that had a key role in Spain's transition to democracy in the late 1970s), councillor for the city since 1995 and mayor since 2000 for the PP (Partido Popular).

Young beginnings

During their discussions Isabel Vázquez mentions that, when De la Torre was elected councillor, she was barely one year old.

"I had no previous political connections and it was in 2023 that I ran for mayor for the first time and won (we won four of the seven council seats). I've always waved the banner for my village and I ran for council because of my passion for my village and my desire to see it flourish and grow and to put it in the spotlight where it belongs. I saw that Igualeja, despite being the village with the most inhabitants in the Genal valley, was not progressing. We were stagnating and there were no policies that met the needs of the local residents, so I decided to take the plunge and run for office." She also pointed out that her grandfather, Pedro Vázquez, was mayor of Igualeja for the UCD party in 1979.

De la Torre, listening to Vázquez during their meeting.
De la Torre, listening to Vázquez during their meeting. Salvador Salas

Despite being at the head of two places facing wildly different realities, both mayors agreed that their guiding principle is to improve the lives of their local residents. "On a local level, what unites all politicians is our interest in our city, in our residents, in doing things well and working for the common good," stressed Francisco de la Torre. The city mayor took the opportunity to stress the fact that the Genal valley and the Serranía de Ronda is a "wonderful area, although I regret not having more time to enjoy it" and stressed that this charm is "an asset" to revitalise those surroundings without losing its essence.

"Taking advantage of the boost coming from Malaga and other towns on the Costa del Sol, the inland municipalities can become places that attract talent to live there, people who enjoy that environment and who can now work remotely from these places thanks to the opportunities afforded today by new technologies," he stated.

Isabel Vázquez remarked that what links the mayor of a small municipality and the mayor of a large city is that "we want the best for our people".

The two agreed that their municipalities share common needs. De la Torre focused on one of his long-standing demands, which is to have "guaranteed local funding to meet the payments" asked of every town hall, while Vázquez insisted that citizens "wherever they live will have the same needs and the requirement to have their basic services covered" in areas such as water supply, sanitation, housing, transport, health, dependency and education.

Growing population

"Fortunately we have put a stop to residents leaving the village and we are the municipality in the province with the second highest growth in population after Benahavís. We have to formulate a policy so that young people stay in the village and to do this we have to offer them good services. Once that population is established, it is easier to attract more to move in. The main problem we have is administrating all this. We have to go through the same procedures as a town hall the size of the one here in Malaga, but we don't have enough staff."

Vázquez, listening to De la Torre.
Vázquez, listening to De la Torre. Salvador Salas

Regarding her relationship with the local people, Isabel Vázquez said that "it is still the same" as it was before she entered politics. "My relationships have not changed and they continue to be close and understanding. My family has a bakery and I have practically grown up always being in contact with people. In that sense my life has not changed. They don't call me mayor, they still call me Isabel," she explained.

Francisco de la Torre, for his part, argued that in a small municipality it is "easier" to establish this link as there are fewer inhabitants. However, even in large cities like Malaga he believes that the relationship he has with the city's residents is "closer" than that which can be established by politicians at a regional or national level.

Ideology and administration

The relevance of ideology in managing a municipality was another of the issues on the table during this meeting. "In large municipalities it plays a certain role because there are issues where you have to think about how to do things to attract investment, to boost the local economy or the supply of rental housing or to create the right conditions for free enterprise to start up an activity that generates employment. Should there be an ideological component amid all that? Not much, but there'll be something. In smaller places it is easier for there to be a consensus between the political powers in their search for the best solutions; in large towns there may also be such a consensus, but it is clear that there may be ideological nuances," said the mayor of Malaga.

As for Igualeja's mayor, she belongs to a party with no ideological definition beyond its defence of local rule. She assured us that her ideology "has no place" in her administration. "We are a small village where we all want the best for our village and for that we have to join hands," said Vázquez, who was, incidentally, Andalusian champion of futsal with the local women's team.

Both shared their concern about the issue of education. Francisco de la Torre stressed that education is "key" to the development of a place and, in his opinion, the challenge for small municipalities such as Igualeja is that young people have the right opportunities for training. Vázquez mentioned the worrying fact that, after a few generations of young people from her village taking up further studies, the trend today is to see "a lot of school dropouts".

Asked what they could learn from each other, De la Torre said he likes to "learn from everyone" and, turning to his new acquaintance: "I'm sure she has put some ideas into practice in Igualeja which are not exactly extrapolable to Malaga city, but they can certainly inspire us. I am delighted to share experiences."

Vázquez in turn said: "For me it is an honour to share this interview with Francisco de la Torre, who is the best mayor there is in Spain for his wisdom, for the way he manages the city and for having turned Malaga into such a cosmopolitan place. The policies he has developed feed into all the municipalities in the province because they have a positive influence. If the provincial capital provides good services and infrastructure, we also benefit."

Francisco de la Torre was grateful for the praise, and said that Isabel Vázquez "does not need any advice because from what I have seen and am hearing, she has won the confidence of the people and has the qualities to do very well." He added that the only thing he recommends to her is that her political action should be "enlightened" by service to the common good. These suggestions were noted by the younger mayor and she invited him to visit Igualeja.

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