Four formidable Parisiennes are fighting it out for a chance to transform their city into a global super-capital to rival … well, London. Peter Allen profiles les Borisettes
A[Spoiler (click to open)]sk the four leading candidates competing to become Paris mayor what kind of city they would ideally like to live in and they are likely to come up with one word — London.
The vision of a forward-thinking global metropolis is becoming increasingly popular as they face up to the shortcomings of a French capital which is beautiful and atmospheric but increasingly outdated and inward-looking.
However, there is at least one aspect of next year’s contest which will see Paris score a historic first over London — the election of a woman mayor.
The office has, throughout history, been dominated by Frenchmen such as Jacques Chirac, who went on to become President of France for 12 years.
Now there are four hugely ambitious women bidding to break a glass ceiling and take over from Bertrand Delanoë, the affable but not particularly dynamic Socialist who has held the office since 2001.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the conservative former spokeswoman for ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, was the first to announce her candidacy for 2014, saying she would put “all my heart and energy” into winning the post, and then reviving Paris.
Those opposing the refined 39-year-old include Anne Hidalgo, the 53-year-old Socialist and close friend of Delanoë, whose innovations have included the Paris-Plages alongside the Seine, the Vélib free bicycle scheme, and more pedestrianised shopping areas.
Such ecologically welcome but indisputably small-town measures are the kind that Cécile Duflot, currently the Green Party housing minister, hopes to build on if she becomes mayor.
But it is Rachida Dati, easily the most internationally famous candidate, who has highlighted the urgency with which Paris needs to follow London’s example.
Dati, the 47-year-old former justice minister, was — like Kosciusko-Morizet — one of the “Sarkozettes” championed by former President Sarkozy.
In an interview this month, Dati also spoke of her immense admiration for London Mayor Boris Johnson, saying he had modernised his city into a global centre of excellence.
Paris lost the 2012 Olympics to London and many believed that this was because of a lack of ambition.
Referring to Johnson, Dati said: “He thinks globally about Greater London, even though the city is 1,500 quare kilometres, while Paris is only 150 square kilometres and we are thinking small.
“In Paris, things are seen in terms of arrondissement by arrondissement. We don’t have a global vision of the city, of a Greater Paris.”
Dati accuses Delanoë’s policies of setting “poor Paris against rich Paris” while wasting money on redeveloping shopping centres and shutting roads along the Seine to traffic.
Money has also been poured into elite cultural projects while Parisians face up to a city-wide housing crisis.
Many of the hugely expensive flats in the city are empty and owned by rich foreigners, while ordinary people are left out on crime-ridden housing estates in the suburbs.
Meanwhile, the Métro is increasingly overcrowded, dirty and dangerous, along with the RER trains used by commuters.
It is all part of a dismal picture which, says Dati, has seen Paris “become so expensive that only the very rich and the very poor in local authority housing can afford to live here. It’s a deliberate policy of exclusion.”
Here the Evening Standard assesses the candidates bidding to become Madame Mayor in 2014:
CECILE DUFLOT, 37
The 37-year-old Green Party minister grew up in the Paris commuter town of Montereau-Fault-Yonne. In 2005 she famously swam in the Seine to highlight the problem of river pollution across France, and became the Green Party’s youngest ever national secretary at the age of 31.
Background: She is a graduate of the leading ESSEC French Business School, and a town planner by profession. She started her political life as a Young Christian Worker and a member of the Birds Protection League. A divorced mother of four, Duflot is with Xavier Cantat, brother of rock star Bertrand, formerly of Noir Désir, who beat his girlfriend to death in Lithuania in 2003.
Views: Controversial. Shortly after being appointed minister for territorial equality and housing, she spoke in favour of legalising cannabis — opposing the Socialist government line. Considered a safe pair of hands on urban plans and technical problems, however.
Style: Last year Duflot was heckled by sexist MPs in Parliament for wearing a blue, flowery dress from Brit brand Boden. “I mean, you don’t wear a dress like that unless you’re off to a picnic with friends,” said one rude critic.
Boris factor: Particularly keen to work with major European cities like London to overcome ecological problems.
Chances: Definite outsider, but mayoral elections are known for throwing up surprises.
NATHALIE KOSCIUSKO-MORIZET, 39
Known by her initials NKM, the
39-year-old was President Sarkozy’s campaign spokesman during his failed re-election bid last year. She is married to Jean-Pierre Philippe, an administrator and academic 18 years her senior.
Background: From a distinguished family of politicians and business leaders, NKM is currently the mayor of Longjumeau, just outside Paris. Claims that her “heart” will be in the job of transforming the capital into a modern city. A strong advocate of green issues, she is part of a “blue ecologist” group. Viewed by some as too upmarket, with little populist appeal.
Style: Bon Chic Bon Genre — or “posh and trendy” — she wears leather jackets and understated Claudie Pierlot.
Boris factor: She has a sophisticated global outlook that extends to can-do cities like London.
Chances: If she can deal with the Dati threat, she has an excellent chance of making mayor. Whatever happens, she says an all-women mayoral contest shows that “France is keeping to its promise of equality, it’s the glass ceiling breaking.”
RACHIDA DATI, 47
Hugely glamorous star of former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration. A single mother who has one failed — arranged — marriage behind her, Dati has gone to court to try to prove that billionaire businessmen Dominique Desseigne is the father of her only daughter.
Background: Born into an impoverished family of North African immigrants, Dati grew up on a council estate near Lyon before working her way through college. She went on to became France’s first justice minister from an ethnic minority background. Viewed as flighty and easily bored by opponents.
Views: Wants Paris to have a London-style “global vision” rather than a parochial French one.
Style: Designer clothes, Dior stilettos and bright red lipstick are all part of a Dati look that has made the cover of Paris Match, as well as other glossy celeb magazines.
Boris factor: Speaks good English.
A big fan of Johnson and other English politicians, including Jack Straw.
Chances: An early front-runner for the Right but increasingly threatened by Kosciusko-Morizet.
ANNE HIDALGO, 53
Background: Spanish-born mother of three who is already the Socialist deputy mayor of Paris. Hidalgo is a close friend of President François Hollande and is viewed as Socialist Party royalty. But conservatives warn she can be “nervous and aggressive”.
Views: An internationalist who was awarded Commander of the Order of Isabel the Catholic by the King of Spain for her “successful integration” in France. Specialist interests include the dangers posed by cults.
Style: Bobo Chic — a sophisticated but simple mix of Agnès B and Sonia Rykiel.
Boris factor: She’s a great admirer of the way London backs entrepreneurs and gives ambitious immigrants the chance to succeed.
Chances: The backing of France’s governing Socialist Party makes Hidalgo a leading contender to become mayor.