OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- This mayoral hopeful in Mexico promises to eat, sleep most of the day and donate his leftover litter to fill potholes.
Morris, a black-and-white kitten with orange eyes, is running for mayor of Xalapa in eastern Mexico with the campaign slogan "Tired of Voting for Rats? Vote for a Cat." And he is attracting tens of thousands of politician-weary, two-legged supporters on social media.
"He sleeps almost all day and does nothing, and that fits the profile of a politician," said 35-year-old office worker Sergio Chamorro, who adopted the 10-month-old feline last year.
Put forth as a candidate by Chamorro and a group of friends after they became disillusioned with the empty promises of politicians, Morris' candidacy has resonated across Mexico, where citizens frustrated with human candidates are nominating their pets and farm animals to run in July 7 elections being held in 14 states.
Also running for mayor are "Chon the Donkey" in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, "Tina the Chicken" in Tepic, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, "Maya the Cat" in the city of Puebla and "Tintan the Dog" in Oaxaca City, though their campaigns are not as well organized as that of Morris.
Politicians repeatedly rank at the bottom of polls about citizens' trust in institutions. A survey last year by Mitofsky polling agency ranking Mexicans' trust in 15 institutions put politicians and government officials among the bottom five. Universities and the Catholic Church were the top two, respectively.
Morris' cuteness, the clever campaign and promises to donate money collected from the sales of campaign stickers and T-shirts to an animal shelter has attracted cat lovers, but Chamorro said most of his supporters are citizens tired of corrupt politicians and fraudulent elections.
"Morris has been a catalyst to show the discontent that exists in our society," Chamorro said. "Our message from the beginning has been 'if none of the candidates represent you, vote for the cat' and it seems people are responding to that."
Xalapa, a university city of 450,000 people, is the capital of the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where residents have in last two years been beleaguered by drug violence, corruption scandals and the killings of at least nine reporters and photojournalists.
During last year's presidential election, a video posted on social networks showed a massive warehouse in Veracruz stuffed with election give-away groceries. Authorities also seized $1.9 million in wads of cash found when police decided to search passengers of a private plane arriving from Veracruz to Toluca, the capital of the home state of now-President Enrique Pena Nieto. Officials later said they had found no wrongdoing and the money was returned.
Giovanna Mazzotti, a 48-year-old university professor from the city of bright colonial buildings and steep streets, said she supports Morris' campaign and plans to go to a party for him being held Friday. The candidate is not expected to attend.
"In this state there is no rule of law, there is no respect for human rights, there are no institutions," Mazzotti said. "It's great that this campaign is showing the fiction in our elections. Every three years politicians laugh at us, it's good to laugh at them a bit, too."
Morris has a website, a Twitter account and a Facebook page with more than 115,000 'likes,' that makes him more popular in social networks than the five human mayoral contenders. Americo Zuniga, the candidate for the ruling party who is leading in election polls, had 33,000 Facebook 'likes' as of Friday.
His website has a collection of memes that picture Morris yawning while describing his "ample legislative experience," an image that mirrors photographs of lawmakers sleeping during congressional sessions.
Morris' campaign managers are asking supporters to write-in 'Morris' or draw a cat's face on the ballot to send a message to authorities, who are not taking the cat's growing popularity lightly.
Members of the Electoral Institute of Veracruz this week called on voters not to waste their vote on a cat.
"We are asking for people to participate by voting for those citizens registered on the ballots," electoral institute president Carolina Viveros told local media this week. "Everything else is part of expressions happening in social media and I respect that, but you have to vote for the registered candidates, please."
Morris also has international supporters.
On Friday, the animal-welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote Morris congratulating him for his campaign.
Stubbs, a cat that has been the honorary mayor for more than 15 years of the sleepy Alaska town of Talkeetna, has shown support for Morris by posting his fellow feline candidate's spot campaign on its Facebook page.
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