Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Madame le Maire - In Paris 'cherchez la femme'

It appears that the next mayor of Paris will be a woman. The Mayoral election takes place in March when Bertrand Delan oe, the current Mayor retires. He's been in office for two terms, the first openly gay mayor, and he's seated above with Anne Hidalgo who is the Socialist candidate. Anne, part of the Socialist administration in the Mayor's office, rose in politics to become a right hand in Delanoe's administration. She's tipped to win in the polls. But her strongest opponent is Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, universally known by her initials, NKM who's on the other side of the bench. NKM, pictured to the right with Carla Bruni Sarkozy, was formerly in Sarkozy's government and comes from a family of high placed French politicos and the right's hope.

At least both women, regardless of their party and political beliefs and programs for Paris (below) campaign in the Paris streets and tie their scarves with French élan.
The race to become mayor of Paris is the most important of 36,000 municipal elections across France on March 23rd and 30th. The mayor is indirectly elected, requiring a majority of votes among elected Paris city councillors. Six candidates are running, including one from Marine Le Pen’s National Front. But the polls suggest that the race will end up as an all-female run-off between Ms Hidalgo, deputy to the outgoing Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, and NKM a young, brainy ex-minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, the former centre-right president.
Anne is the favorrite in a race for one of the grander jobs in French politics. The mayor of Paris works from the Hotel de Ville, a neo-renaissance mansion, enjoys sweeping powers, and employs 55,000 people. The Mayoral job is often seen as the stepping stone to the Presidency of France as Jacques Chirac did.

“Sustainable, responsible and innovative” is the image of Paris Ms Hidalgo says she wants to project. Hence her carefully staged campaigning trips in an electric car, and her backing for Scootlib, a proposed electric scooter-hire system akin to the capital’s Vélib for bicycles and Autolib for electric cars. In her €8.5 billion investment program, unveiled on January 27th, she wants to spend €1.5 billion on public transport, including extended tramlines, and another €1 billion transforming Paris into a wireless smart city. She thinks she can do all this without raising local taxes.

A naturalized French citizen of Spanish origin and one-time labor inspector, Ms Hidalgo has worked at city hall for the past 13 years. In 2008, like many working in city hall that evening of Nuit Blanche - White Night a citywide all night event of art and music fostered by Delanoe, she was present for the party at Hotel de Ville. No special security was put into place a decision that the mayor said was meant to show that Paris belongs to the people. The mayor usually refused security guards for himself. As Delanoe made the rounds at the party, a man approached him and stabbed him in the stomach with a large knife. Anne Hidalgo stepped in and with courage under pressure, took control of the situation, got the Mayor to safety and mobilized the shocked staff.
The mayor was rushed to the hospital and underwent three hours of surgery to repair injuries to internal organs. Ever since then Anne's star rose, not only due to the Mayors gratitude but she took charge and dealt with a crisis situation.
Today she says "Of course, we want to continue with the idea that City Hall is everyone's home. The fact of being a local representative means the most direct contact possible." Her plans include building 5,000-7,000 new housing units along the périphérique, or Paris ring-road, many of which would be public housing.

As for NKM, a former environment minister who comes from a political family with Polish roots, her signature idea is to build over big stretches of the périphérique, and keep the Paris Métro running until 2am. She spoke once of the “charm” of the system, to the disbelief of commuters who pack themselves into its trains each day, and she wants to curb car use. She denounces the dirtiness of the city’s streets and the crime rate, and promises more video surveillance and a tougher approach to aggressive begging. With Paris increasingly a city for either the rich or the subsidized poor, she stresses the need for housing for the squeezed middle classes, and wants to adapt empty offices for this purpose.
Despite their differences, both candidates want to put Paris back on the map as a world city, and to create high-tech infrastructure to encourage more start-ups and innovation. NKM vows to reverse the trend among young Parisians 'who today prefer London or Berlin'. Ms Hidalgo, who favors a 'Greater Paris' that incorporates some inner suburbs, wants London and Paris to stop competing and recognize that, seen from Beijing, they are 'each a suburb of the other'.  She says, "It’s not enough to lean on its history, I want to keep Paris moving and innovating.”Anne’s main drawback is her failure to emerge from the shadow of Mr Delanoë, a popular mayor. Her latex puppet on 'Les Guignols de l’Info', a satirical television show, trails voicelessly about behind him. More cunningly, she has distanced herself from François Hollande, the unpopular Socialist president, declining even to put the party logo on her campaign leaflets.

With her image of what the French call a bobo - bohemian-bourgeois, NKM seemed a smart choice to straddle both posh and progressive Paris. But she has at times appeared otherworldly and disdainful, and faces some dissident candidates who will divide the vote on the right.  Either way, Paris seems certain in March to elect its first ever Madame le Maire.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Thanks, Cara for bringing me up to speed on a(nother) subject I knew nothing about. It's about time French women get to rule in name, confirming what all the world but French men have long known to be the defacto reality. :)

  2. Thank you, Cara! Without you how would I be able to keep up my end of conversations with my French friends?They always know a LOT about what is happening in the US and New York. Our parochial news outlets never tell us this sort of thing. And the BBC world news, which I get in NYC, concentrates on the Commonwealth nations. How anyone could ignore Paris is beyond me.