Jaume Collboni, seizing his moment for a decade – who is the new Barcelona mayor?

Socialist politician and law graduate becomes first openly gay to reach top post, after being MP and deputy mayor

Socialist candidate for Barcelona mayor, Jaume Collboni, casting his ballot on May 28, 2023
Socialist candidate for Barcelona mayor, Jaume Collboni, casting his ballot on May 28, 2023 / Sílvia Jardí
Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | @enGuifre | Barcelona

June 18, 2023 02:35 PM

It required patience, a lot of patience – almost ten years of waiting. But in the end, Jaume Collboni was sworn in as mayor of Barcelona on Saturday.

His successful run was not an easy or very expected one, and in certain moments during his career it seemed his time was over. Yet, he has proved to be a skillful politician over the past few years because he has found the way to remain the Socialist candidate and steadily grow in vote share.

For instance, a year ago, rumors had it that the Socialists would bar him from run in the local election and would instead bid for the mayoral post with the Spanish minister Miquel Iceta or the Catalan Socialist leader, Salvador Illa.

Yet, Collboni showed determination to continue his plans to be the frontrunner for the Socialists in the May 28, local election, which ended up in success. But it had been a long ride with other doses of persistence over the years.

A law graduate who was offered opportunities in the Socialist party soon after enroling

Jaume Collboni was born in 1969 and grew up in Baix Guinardó, a working-class neighborhood in the Catalan capital.

He graduated in law at the University of Barcelona and enrolled in the Socialist Party in 1994, where he was given opportunities soon afterwards.

He first was representative for his district, Horta-Guinardó, and in 2005 he got a job as MP assistant in the Catalan parliament.

His big leap arrived in 2010, when he got a seat as MP in the Catalan election, a feat he repeated in the 2012 vote.

Yet, in March 2014, he decided to quit the chamber aiming to become the Socialist frontrunner in the 2015 Barcelona local election.

As the favorite candidate of the party leadership, he won the internal vote – but not without controversy.

Winner of 2015 Socialist frontrunner internal vote despite bad practice allegations

The procedure was open not only to members, but also to the general public, and it was marred by some bad practice accusations when residents of Pakistani residents queued to take part in the vote, allegedly guided or even paid by Collboni's aides to support him – in the end, in the first round of votes, 70% of participants were not members of the party.

The incoming mayor of Barcelona ended up running in the 2015 election, in which the Socialists plummeted, losing 7 out of the 11 council seats.

Despite the poor results, the party continued to back him and Collboni entered the first Ada Colau cabinet as deputy mayor for economy and work.

In the peak of the independence push in 2017, the then mayor Colau sided in favor of an independence referendum, and Collboni, in favor of Spain's unity and backed by the lesser Catalanist faction of the party, quit her government along with the other Socialist councilors.

2019: deputy mayor for second time after crafting rare deal

In 2019, he ran again for mayor, doubling his results and getting eight council seats.

After the election, Colau managed to get reelected after receiving the Socialist support and an unexpected backing of Manuel Valls, who was very far from the mayor's stances – Collboni is said to be the person who managed to persuade the former French prime minister.

This move ended pro-independence Ernest Maragall's hopes to be sworn in as mayor after having won the election.

The Socialists decided to return to government, with the man now leading the council as second-in-command to Colau – Collboni was named deputy mayor for economy and work, and led business and investment policies.

While in government, he also made clear he did not fully agree with the senior partner in cabinet.

In November 2022, he was named frontrunner of the Socialists again, and shortly afterwards he quit the government to focus on the campaign, while his party remained in the executive.

First openly gay mayor of Barcelona

This circumstance has prompted him to highlight the differences between his group and Colau's Barcelona en Comú, and has also earned him some criticism for quitting his responsibilities.

Nearly 30 years after joining the party and almost a decade after he first planned to lead the Socialists in the Catalan capital, Collboni has managed to get the top post.

He is the first openly gay mayor of the city, as he emphasized during the campaign, adding that he will fight homophobia.

Indeed, one of his political inspirations is Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

Also regarding his personal life, he went to a public school, lives in Poble Nou district in a flat he owns with his two adopted cats, Aretha and Franklin, and has a second home in El Vilosell, in western Catalonia.

Before the election, he told the Catalan News Agency that he uses his rented Seat Mó electric motorbike to move within Barcelona, as well as bicycle and public transport.

He speaks Catalan, Spanish and English, along with some French.