RIO DE JANEIRO — The wealthy wife of Sao Paulo's newly elected mayor has become a laughingstock in Brazil after comparing herself to Eva Perón — while giving an interview in her Porsche — and saying the poor just need a hug.
“I always felt like Eva Perón, because I’m more of the people, I feel like one of the people,” said Bia Doria, 56, an artist, while driving her Porsche Cayenne around upscale neighborhoods in Sao Paulo during an interview for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. “I’ve always got on really well with more humble people. Sometimes it’s just a squeeze of the hand; sometimes they want a hug.”
Published Sunday, the interview of the wife of Mayor João Doria was widely ridiculed here for what many saw as crass comments that exposed the vast gap between Brazil’s privileged, cosseted rich and the long-suffering rest of the population.
“João Doria’s wife’s interview for newspaper causes vomiting epidemic over breakfast,” spat satirical site Sensacionalista (Sensationalist).
Bia’s husband, entrepreneur João Doria, 58, was elected mayor of South America’s most populated city on Oct. 2 and has been compared to Donald Trump because he starred in Brazil's version of “The Apprentice” and campaigned as a businessman and manager rather than as a traditional politician.
Unlike more than half of Brazilians who describe themselves as black or mixed race, his wife is blonde and blue-eyed. She said she cried when Workers’ Party leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, from Brazil’s poorer northeast, was first elected in 2002.
Doria rode a tide of revulsion over a corruption scandal that cost the Workers’ Party dearly, but he also tripped over Brazil's class divide. During campaigning, he was mocked for draping cashmere sweaters over his shoulders — a preppy look popularly associated with pampered rich men called “Mauricinho,” or “Little Maurice” — and making faces when required to eat greasy street food such as the deep-fried meat pastries for which Sao Paulo is famous.
Eva Perón — the Argentine first lady who died in 1952 and was played by Madonna in the 1996 film “Evita” — was adored by her country’s poor because of her tireless work on their behalf. In contrast, Bia Doria provoked ire in Brazil with what many read as a condescending tone toward working-class Brazilians in a society in which rich and poor regard each other with mutual incomprehension and even hostility.
“This inequality has to be reduced. You can’t have an employee arriving in the studio with nutrition problems,” she said. “Imagine how happy I would be if a chambermaid arrived already knowing how to do things. Very few of them do.”
She called one favela — as Brazil’s low-income, improvised communities are known — “Ethiopia” and said she had transformed the lives of some of her assistants working in her vast studio, where she makes enormous sculptures of bronze, wood and marble.
“They all lived in shacks and did not have any teeth. I managed to get a house for all of them, gave them teeth and a good health plan. Today they are happy and even think they are artists because they are my assistants,” Doria said.
Doria told journalist Silas Martí that she did not mind being stuck in Sao Paulo’s notoriously gridlocked traffic in her Porsche because she could look at WhatsApp and Instagram — showing off a photo of a female friend surrounded by Hermés bags with a glass of champagne in hand.
As Brazilians reacted with shock and scorn, Bia Doria began trending on Twitter — which was unlikely to please her populist husband. He is already battling criticism for his plan to increase speed limits on Sao Paulo highways and eliminate some of the city’s much-praised cycle path network.
“Don’t cry for me Jardim Europa!” joked one Brazilian tweeting as Clayton R — in a play on the name of the luxurious neighborhood where the Dorias’ mansion is located and the theme song from Evita, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.”
“Congratulations to the ghost writer who put Bia Doria’s answers into the Folha interview,” journalist and author Xico Sá tweeted to his 756,000 followers. “A genius of fiction — this can’t be real.”
Others went on the attack. “The ignorant rich is the saddest thing there is,” tweeted Brazilian blogger and pop culture commentator “Chico Barney” (an advertising executive called Lucas de Barros with 48,000 followers), who linked to the interview — one of two Bia Doria had conceded.
To add to her woes, Bia Doria’s site was hacked Sunday and images of her sculptures replaced with negative news reports about her husband. On Monday afternoon, the site was still offline, while Doria was remaining silent in the aftermath of what is regarded here as a political publicity disaster.
Brazilians, meanwhile, were still joking.
“Ai, Bia Doria,” gibed Sao Paulo resident Adriana Oppenheim on her Facebook page. “You are going to bury your husband’s political career if you keep talking. Go deep Bia!”