‘No topic on the table’: Spanish mayor listens to voters over lunch | Spain


IIt all started with a tweet in October. “I want to have dinner with you. I’ll bring dessert. What followed was an avalanche of invitations that Michelle Montaner knocked on the doors of complete strangers every night of the week.

“I ring their doorbell and say, ‘Hello, I’m the mayor,'” Montaner told the Guardian. “I’m coming alone, no police or councillors.”

The politician, who has been mayor of the small town of Kirivella in eastern Spain since 2015, launched the initiative in hopes of better understanding the concerns of voters in the city of 31,000 before May’s municipal elections. But after dining with more than 60 people over the past few weeks, he’s been impressed by their eagerness to share their potato-eating struggles and triumphs. flatbread and marble slabs ham.

“The actual dinner is very symbolic because I usually just have a salad and a sandwich. But the most important thing is that they invite me to their homes,” he said. “When we get to a place of trust and intimacy, the walls come down and people tell me what’s on their mind.”

Montaner with sisters Antonia and Manoli and Manoli’s daughter Ana

Monday through Friday, schedule permitting, she arrives at her home at 9 p.m., grabbing a cake or a plate of candy from a rotating list of local bakeries. The tone of the meeting was explained in his first tweet – “I want to talk to you and your family about Xirivella. There is nothing on the table” – the conversation often lasts until dawn.

Some of its guests have deep roots in the region, while others have immigrated from countries such as Ukraine or Bulgaria. Families and groups of friends fed him everything from marinated partridge to pork wellington. Sometimes the formula was different: more than twenty people recently took him to a bar; next month he has plans with a local priest.

Go out to lunch
“The dinner itself is symbolic,” says Montaner

He takes detailed notes in a book he carries with him and carefully observes what people say. Residents approached him with suggestions ranging from a new auditorium to expanding the municipal gymnasium, as well as polite criticisms such as cleaning the streets or improving maintenance. green spaces in the city. “I really appreciate it,” he said. “I don’t want to hear all the good stuff, so you know it’s not real.”

The conversation is often not about municipal issues. “People talk to me about personal problems, family problems or educational problems. They were completely opened,” he said. “Honestly, I never know what I’m going to find, but I’ve met some really great families.”

The initiative proved popular with residents—Montaner’s dinner schedule sold out by March.

“I was told, ‘But you’re not afraid to show yourself like this, alone, without the police, without counselors?’ there were people who said. He dismissed the concerns, saying the dinners were free from the political polarization that dominated Spanish headlines.

On the contrary, he was convinced that this initiative could play a powerful role in building bridges. “Imagine if the 8,600 mayors of Spain, or the mayors of England or France – all went to a neighbor’s house for dinner once a month, instead of every night,” he said. “It reduces tension, it reduces anger, and people really get to know their representatives.”

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