Rio city council votes against opening impeachment of mayor

Supporters of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, left, argue with opposition demonstrators during a protest outside City Hall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Rio's city council is analyzing two impeachment processes against Crivella who is accused of using his position to benefit members of the Evangelical church. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A supporter of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, left, argues with an opposition demonstrator in front of City Hall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Rio's city council will analyze two impeachment processes against Crivella who is accused of using his position to benefit members of the Evangelical church. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Supporters of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella raise their hands in front of a sign that reads in Portuguese: "Out Bishop, Mayor Crivella, Impeachment now" during a protest in front City Hall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Rio's city council is analyzing two impeachment processes against Crivella who is accused of using his position to benefit members of the Evangelical church. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A woman protests against Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella outside City Hall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Rio's city council is analyzing two impeachment processes against Crivella who is accused of using his position to benefit members of the Evangelical church. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Evangelist Pastor Rubens Teixeira is carried by supporters of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, while opposition demonstrators holds signs that read in Portuguese: "Get out Crivella" during rallies for and against Crivella outside City Hall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Rio's city council will analyze two impeachment processes against Crivella who is accused of using his position to benefit members of the Evangelical church. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A supporter of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, center facing camera, argues with opposition demonstrators during a protest outside City Hall in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Rio's city council os analyzing two impeachment processes against Crivella who is accused of using his position to benefit members of the Evangelical church. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

RIO DE JANEIRO — The city council voted Thursday against opening impeachment proceedings against Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, rejecting accusations he misused his office to grant favors to members of his evangelical church.

Last week, the newspaper O Globo reported that Crivella held a meeting with members of Brazil's Universal Church of Kingdom of God at which he discussed helping them access public services. Crivella was a bishop in the evangelical church and his religiousness has been a subject contention since he took office last year.

Some city council members contended the mayor was inappropriately offering favors to church members and filed requests for his impeachment. But the council voted 29 to 16 Thursday against opening those proceedings.

"If the mayor wasn't evangelical, if the mayor had met with any other group, of another religion, would there be as much attention focused on this?" asked Alexandre Isquierdo, a city councilman who voted against opening the proceedings.

Supporters and detractors filled the gallery of the chamber during the debate and vote and often shouted so loudly that the council members couldn't be heard as they spoke.

The Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors' office has been investigating since last year whether Crivella has violated the principle that the state should be secular. On Wednesday, it filed a civil action against the mayor, alleging administrative misconduct.

After the vote, Crivella thanked his allies in the council for rejecting the impeachment requests, which he said "had no legal basis."

"I also want to make an appeal in this moment," he said in a statement. "An appeal to the opposition and to the government's base, that we can overcome all this, which has just been swept into the trash heap of history, and think about our city of Rio de Janeiro."

Crivella's election has exposed cultural divisions in Brazil, which is known for its easygoing attitude toward sex and its bacchanal Carnival celebrations but where an increasing number of people identify as evangelical and members of evangelical churches have taken on an increasingly important role in politics.

Crivella's connection to the Universal church has raised hackles before. He was criticized for skipping last year's Carnival - an almost unthinkable snub in a city where mayors traditionally have opened the celebrations. He also took heat for cutting city funding for Rio's gay pride parade last year.

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Associated Press writers Sarah DiLorenzo and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

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