After sharp criticism, Rio evangelical mayor opens Carnival

The 2018 Carnival King Momo, Milton Junior holds up the key of the city as the Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Marcelo Crivella stands left behind at a ceremony marking the official start of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
The 2018 Carnival King Momo, Milton Junior holds the key of the city as the Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Marcelo Crivella at a ceremony marking the official start of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Flanked by Queen Jessica Maia, left, and the 2018 Carnival King Momo, Milton Junior, the Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Marcelo Crivella applauds at a ceremony marking the official start of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio's evangelical mayor attended the ceremonial opening of this year's Carnival on Friday after being sharply criticized for ducking out last year.

However, Mayor Marcelo Crivella did it in a way that many Carnival revelers will find strange.

Crivella was present for Friday's handing of the city's key to the Carnival king, but did not do it himself as previous mayors have done. Instead, he had a famous Rio family do it and then stepped away quickly.

Crivella is a bishop in Brazil's powerful Universal Church of Kingdom of God and was elected mayor in 2016 with the help of the evangelical vote. Many evangelicals oppose Carnival.

Crivella has also cut about $1.5 million in funding for the famous samba school parades.

After the ceremonial opening on Friday, Crivella told journalists he doesn't hold any prejudice against Carnival and called the bash "just a party."

"This thing about me handing the key has become a religious dogma," Crivella said. "The key was always handed to the Carnival king. Has that made education better? Healthcare? Is there anything very important in this?"

Revelers have criticized Rio's mayor with their costumes, shirts and songs. Popular samba school Mangueira plans to feature a float depicting a butt with Crivella's name on it.

Rio's mayor said he accepts criticism and that Carnival is a paradoxical time for the city.

"We live with our hearts torn by violence, by inequality," he said, adding that many poor communities "need so much."

The mayor did not say whether he would go to the Sambadrome, where samba schools will parade and compete on Sunday and Monday while thousands watch. Earlier on Thursday he inspected the Sambadrome building and was accidentally showered with water from a hydrant.

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