| SAO PAULO
SAO PAULO Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria said he would do everything possible to stop leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from regaining the presidency, but Doria stopped short of saying he would run in presidential elections next year.
An ex-businessman, Doria has seen his poll numbers rise fast for a possible presidential run. Yet he said he remains loyal to his political mentor, Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who has made it clear he wants to contest the presidency.
Doria swept to an unprecedented first-round victory in October's municipal elections. He is widely seen as a strong presidential candidate among Brazilians disillusioned with traditional politicians.
A corruption investigation code named Operation Car Wash has revealed kickbacks from construction companies to politicians of all major parties. Lula faces five court cases related to the investigations, which could prevent him from running next year.
"Public opinion is unfavourable to candidates with a political profile," Doria told Reuters in his offices. "This is a very clear sentiment in Brazil and it's going to have an influence on the 2018 elections."
The multimillionaire media entrepreneur romped to victory in October portraying himself as an efficient manager, not a politician. He ousted the incumbent mayor from Lula's Workers Party.
Doria used to host Brazil's version of the Apprentice and has been ubiquitous on social media, yet he has downplayed the inevitable comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump.
He said he ran for mayor following the Car Wash probe's revelations of corruption and blamed interventionist policies during 13 years of Workers Party rule for pushing Brazil into a deep recession.
Brazil moved to the right last year when Lula's successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached for breaking budgetary rules. But now many are frustrated with the austerity measures pursued by centre-right President Michel Temer. Several polls show Lula is the favourite in voting intentions for the presidency, though they suggest he could lose in a second round.
"Now Lula wants to dispute the 2018 elections as a saviour!" Doria said. "I will use all my strength as a citizen and mayor to speak out and say enough is enough. Look at the disastrous state they left Brazil in."
Doria insisted his focus was running Sao Paulo, a city of 12 million and Brazil's economic powerhouse. He is launching a privatisation programme worth $2.3 billion to generate funds for health and education investment.
As part of his "Beautiful City" campaign, the mayor has appeared on weekends to clean downtown city streets and squares. He often dresses in a garbage collector's overalls, prompting critics to suggest he is playing to the media gallery.
Asked if he might contest the presidency if he was the only candidate ahead of Lula in the polls, Doria replied "Only God knows the future."
He added: "We are on the right track but I don't want to suggest that is paving the way for any candidacy. Everything in due course. We have a long path ahead of us."
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn and Eduardo Simoes; Editing by David Gregorio)