High stakes in Paris race to be first 'Madame Mayor'

Wed Jan 29, 2014 3:44pm EST
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By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - Wanted: Chief executive to run city of two million, seat of government, top global tourist destination and fashion capital. Relevant experience appreciated. Men need not apply.

Paris elects a new mayor this spring who will, barring accidents, be a woman - either a businesslike Socialist with a fat contacts book and an army of volunteers, or a youthful conservative whose Botticelli hair and penchant for playing the harp belie a naked ambition to be president of France.

Both want to reinvigorate the "City of Light" as a dynamic international rival to London or New York, while fixing local gripes about housing shortages and snarled traffic.

A heated campaign has been marked, however, by personal finger-pointing between City Hall insider Anne Hidalgo, deputy to the incumbent, and fiery challenger Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a protégée of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Whoever wins will be the first woman ever to run Paris and first to hold the mayoral post created in its present form in 1977. It gave conservative Jacques Chirac a springboard to the presidency and also offers substantial powers to transform the future of one of Europe's oldest and best loved great cities.

"The most important thing for any city of the scale and history of Paris is to demonstrate resilience, to be nimble ... to anticipate what's happening and respond," said Ricky Burdett, urban studies professor at the London School of Economics in the great rival metropolis. "There is a sense that Paris has been going through a prolonged static period."

For a nation whose politics remain arguably more dominated by men than some of its neighbors, the novelty of two women at war for the French capital has attracted plenty of attention.

A televised debate on Wednesday also swung a spotlight back on women vying for power in their own right rather than players in the recent drama surrounding the nation's most powerful man.   Continued...

A two-way combo shows Paris mayoral candidates Anne Hidalgo (L), Paris deputy mayor and Socialist Party member and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (R), conservative UMP political party member at the LCI studios in Boulogne-Billancourt before taking part in a televised debate, January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Kovarik/Pool