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Ex-Bogota Mayor Regains Job on Pledges to Restore Order

Enrique Penalosa (c) celebrates with former presidential candidate Martha Lucia Ramirez (l) and senator Carlos Galan, after being proclaimed the new mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 25, 2015.

Former Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa won a tight race to regain his old job on Sunday, handing a stunning defeat to Colombia's left that has governed the capital for the last 12 years.

Penalosa received 33 percent of the vote in mayoral and gubernatorial elections held nationwide, besting former Defense Minister Rafael Pardo, who secured 28.5 percent, and leftist candidate Clara Lopez, who finished third with 18 percent.

Penalosa, a Duke University-trained economist born in Washington, is remembered fondly by Bogota's 8 million residents for declaring war on the automobile when he previously served as mayor from 1998 to 2001, restricting traffic during rush hour, implementing a mass transit system and rolling out a network of bike paths that now stretch over 185 miles (300 kilometers).

Voters returned him to office, after three previous unsuccessful runs, with the hope he can restore order to a city suffering from gridlock traffic and worsening perceptions of safety out of step with recent security and economic and security gains in the rest of Colombia.

Bogota was deemed to have the third-worst quality of life in Latin America, surpassing only Guatemala City and the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, in a recent ranking of 140 cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"We're going to leave behind the hopelessness, recover our self-esteem and remake Bogota as high as our most-ambitious dreams," a jubilant Penalosa told supporters after being declared the victor.

Colombia's capital had been a bastion of the left in the otherwise conservative country. But the previous Mayor, Samuel Moreno, was removed from office and jailed on corruption charges and the current one, former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro, is preparing to leave office widely panned after four years of polarizing rule that also saw him briefly removed from office for administrative irregularities.

While the left lost control of what's widely-seen as the country's second-most important political office, a right-wing movement started by popular former President Alvaro Uribe fell short of expectations in its first regional electoral test.

Candidates backed by Uribe's Democratic Center party won in just two of Colombia's 32 gubernatorial races and lost even in the former president's stronghold of Medellin and the surrounding department of Antioquia.