There’s always someone to criticize the mayor no matter what he does. His achievements are ignored, while he gets dragged through mud in almost every subject area

Mehmet Ali BirandIstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş is used to it by now. There’s always someone to criticize him no matter what he does. His achievements are ignored, while he gets dragged through mud in almost every subject area.
He asked me to go see him the other day. First, he took the wheel of a small golf-cart and took me around some very important project sites across Istanbul. We especially toured Florya’s 8-km long coastal strip. To tell you the truth, my mouth fell open.
Why not serve alcohol?:
I am very familiar with the complete desolation that used to reign in that district. The whole area was a ‘cesspit’ inhabited by drug addicts or cheap prostitutes. Today, the whole place has become unrecognisable. There has emerged a gleaming strip. It’s squeaky clean and picnickers are not allowed. People are walking or jogging. Some families are sitting on banks. One municipal beach that he showed was especially incomparable to anything I’d seen.
Küçükçekmece has been cleaned up and arranged in the same way. Restaurants line the whole shore. Drinking is not allowed at those that are operated by the municipality. Others have been leased to the private sector and are allowed to serve alcohol. I was curious, so I asked him,
“Why do municipal venues do not sell alcoholic beverages?”
This was his answer:
“…There is an article in municipal law that forbids it... And we don’t want to change it either... For there’s a religious sector and those people do not wish to go to places that sell alcohol. That’s why they never used to go out and stayed at home. These are the only places that they can take their families to. This is not a policy. We wanted to find a way to bring together the secular and the religious sectors... We serve alcohol at municipal receptions. Nor do we forbid the restaurants that we lease to the private sector... In addition, the number of places that sell alcohol in Istanbul increases in parallel to tourism. There’s no restriction at all...”
You may or may not accept this, but there's a certain logic in what he says. Three hours had passed when we finally reached the famous Okmeydanı Piyale Paşa Tunnel. Some very impressive work had been done there.
What surprised me most during the whole visit, however, was the fact that this was the first time I’d met a mayor who really cared about the handicapped and made efforts to provide better conditions for them. I’m sure that other mayors have also tried to protect the handicapped, but I was very impressed by how much Topbaş had accomplished.
What I first saw as I went through the door was a handicapped man and his family shaking the mayor’s hand. They were there to thank him. Çağlar Özyiğit and his family had attended the camp at Çiroz.
I thought at first that they were talking about a political ‘show’ program for the handicapped. Nothing could be further than the truth.
This 60 thousand meter-square seaside camp was attended by five thousand handicapped and their families this year. Everything was gratis. Apart from the facilities required for the comfort of the handicapped, this camp is also equipped with TV, air-conditioning, hot and cold water, a cafeteria, children’s playground, Internet, sports courts...
A sincere ‘bravo’:
I was telling Topbaş how difficult it is for the handicapped to use the high sidewalk, the inconvenient entrances and the municipal transportation in Istanbul, when he started listing the measures he had taken.
I had to say ”Bravo.” You should know that, from now on, no permit will be issued unless the related project includes the required measures for the handicapped. These measures include special steps for the handicapped on municipal busses, special passageways and more interestingly, special cars with lifts that the handicapped can order by phone...
Well done, Mr. Mayor... Even if you are criticized in other areas, the thanks that you receive from the handicapped will go a long way.
NOTE: When they read this article, some colleagues or readers will maintain that I’ve written “to further my own interests.” Therefore, I declare to whom it may concern: I’ve absolutely no business with the municipality. There’s no debt to pay or to collect. I am not planning to build anything, nor do I have any need for a permit or other expectations...

The translation of M.A.Birand’s column was provided by Nuran İnanç