Ioan Ghise is the mayor of Brasov, and he is one frustrated mayor. It's a matter of money and politics, intertwined in a particularly Romanian way.
Ghise, 46, taught math in a middle school here for 12 years before entering politics after the collapse of communism. In 1996 he was elected mayor of his home town with 75 percent of the vote; in 2000 he was reelected with 69 percent. He belongs to the center-right opposition to the Social Democratic government in Bucharest.
But in 2000, Brasov's voters also elected a city council dominated by the Social Democratic Party, the former communists. Political warfare erupted. Ghise's opponents currently enjoy considerably more firepower than he does.
That firepower illustrates how Romania's unique brand of democracy is stacked against the opposition. The ruling party and the central government it dominates are squeezing Ghise, politically and economically. The government in Bucharest dollops out money to Brasov and all the country's towns, and mandates how they must spend their locally raised revenue.
A prefect for the county of Brasov represents the central government, and can deny Ghise the right to go to court when he thinks his city council has done something illegal -- which he thinks quite often. The council has orchestrated the privatization of city-owned buildings, but valued them at less than one one-thousandth their actual market value.
Council members have worked out ways to profit from this privatization, according to Ghise. He persuaded the prime minister's office to acknowledge that this looked improper, but he cannot get the central government to do anything about it.
Brasov is an ancient town with a cobbled central square. The surrounding gray, industrial city has a population of about 275,000. This was a center of the defense industry and home to two huge factories producing trucks and tractors. All are now in dire economic difficulty.
The defense factories have been paying their workers 75 percent of their salaries for a dozen years, but the workers have not worked during that period. The factories -- uncompetitive relics of the failed socialist system -- are kept alive by a nervous central government that can't face up to the need to abandon them.
Ghise is frustrated that the directors of these plants make huge salaries by local standards, about $3,000 a month. The mayor earns $350.
Ghise takes his case to the people of Brasov every Tuesday at 5 p.m., holding regular sessions in a Brasov park. He compares them to speeches at Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park. These appearances make him feel better, but only about 100 citizens turn out each week. And Ghise knows his government can't meet their needs for education, health care, warm apartments and much more.
The situation here is "bad, very bad," the mayor said.