For the first time ever, an all-female field of candidates will compete for the mayoralty of the city of Paris – a job that frequently serves as a launch-pad for the presidency of France.
The decision by the current mayor, Socialist Bertrand Delanöe, not to run for re-election next year after serving for 12 years has opened up the floodgates for women seeking to grab the levers of power in a country where the fairer sex has traditionally been politically marginalized.
No woman has ever served as Paris mayor.
Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate and current deputy mayor, will face two center-right hopefuls, the front-runner Rachida Dati, 47, a former member of Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet; and MP Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (better known as NKM), 39, Sarkozy's former campaign spokesman and environment minister.
In a way, these ladies serve as kind of proxies for men already ensconced in power.
For example, NKM has the endorsement of former Prime Minister François Fillon, who reportedly has tense relations with Dati. Conversely, the glamorous and ambitious Dati enjoys the support of Jean-François Copé, with whom Fillon was locked in a bitter battle for the leadership of Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party.
Meanwhile, Hidalgo, 53, is closely allied with President François Hollande, but has never held any elected office, although she is viewed as Delanoe’s hand-picked successor.
Indeed, Hidalgo is the front runner, said Douglas Yates, assistant professor of political science at the American University of Paris and professor at the American Graduate School in Paris, with a strong partisan constituency in the capital city.
“The strength of Hidalgo is the Socialist party machine, which has managed to work with the greens and other leftists to construct a functioning majority in Paris,” he stated.
“While the suburbs outside of Paris are rings of extremism, such as a far-right National Front belt in the East and West, or riot-stricken ghettos in the North, the central 20 arrondissements -- in which a little under 2 million people work -- has increasingly attracted a well-to-do, highly educated, and somewhat progressive crowd, who appear to be a solid electoral anchoring for Hidalgo, given the current configuration.”
Currently the mayor of Paris’ VII arrondissement and a member of the European Parliament, Dati, once a rising star in Sarkozy’s administration, suffered a dramatic fall when Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni, reportedly viewed her as a threat, leading to Dati losing her coveted post as justice minister.
Dati and NKM are likely to split the right-wing and conservative vote, although both are “vibrant” politicians, Yates noted.
“Their split personifies the fragmentation of the center-right UMP coalition,” he said.
A dark-horse fourth candidate is 37-year-old Green party favorite Cécile Duflot, the current minister of territorial equality and housing.
Although there is still time for a man to throw his hat into the ring, the likelihood of a woman gaining one of the most prestigious political jobs in France would be a historic event and will make all the candidates national figures.
“The mayor of Paris has a lot of political clout, much more than London, so having a woman in that position will certainly help boost the presence of females in French politics,” Philippe Marlière, a professor in French politics at UCL London, told The Local newspaper.
“You can introduce all kinds of laws on equality but this kind of scenario will help much more.”
Marlière added that it would be conceivable for a woman to one day become France’s president.
“I think it’s definitely in the pipeline,” he said. “I don’t think the French are ready to elect a president from an ethnic minority like [a Barack Obama] figure, but they’re much closer to having a female president.”
Dati is by far the most compelling and fascinating figure in this unfolding political melodrama.
Born to North African parents (a Moroccan father and Algerian mother) in humble circumstances, Dati attracted salacious headlines over a lawsuit she filed charging that Dominique Desseigne, a wealthy hotel magnate and chief executive of Groupe Lucien Barrière, is the father of her child.
Dati, who will likely face a bitter and tough primary against NKM for Paris' ever- dwindling conservative vote, has also been criticized by the French media for her excessive attention to elegant fashion, frequently wearing clothes designed by Christian Dior.
At any rate, while the media will likely focus primarily on the back-and-forth hostilities between Dati and NKM, Yates expects Hidalgo to win the race.