Anne Hildalgo says when someone stands for election, Parisians want to know who they are
Deputy mayor of Paris says she has a problem with Roma families living in the phone booths
Anne Hidalgo, Paris deputy mayor and Socialist party candidate in the 2014 city mayoral elections. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters.
Anne Hidalgo talked to the European Press Association for two hours about the Paris housing shortage, bicycle lanes and city taxes. But it was the Roma baby in the phone booth that captured our imagination.
Hidalgo, the deputy mayor of Paris and the socialist candidate to succeed her mentor, Mayor Bertrand Delanoë in next March’s municipal elections, was explaining her qualms about the French justice system.
“We have a problem with Roma families living in the phone booths on the Place de la République,” she said. “We offered them housing, but they refused. Some have small children. There is a several-day-old baby. We wanted to place it in care, because it’s in danger. Today, a Paris court ruled that it is not in danger because it is with its parents.”
Asked why the Roma family refused the offered housing, Hidalgo answered: “Because they want to remain in the place where they engage in begging, that is to say, near what they consider their place of work.”
Hidalgo has led opinion polls since the former conservative cabinet minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, known as NKM, became the right’s official candidate last June. However the margin has narrowed to just a couple of percentage points.
Hidalgo has the advantage of 12 years as a city councillor and Delanoe’s deputy, of stories like the Roma baby in the phone booth.
Tamed, felt, lived
“Paris has to be tamed, felt, lived,” Hidalgo says. “It’s not a city where you show up and say, ‘I’ll take it because I’m worth it’.
“When someone stands for election, Parisians want to know who they are, what they’ve got in their guts, why they’ve shown up. If you’re here for personal ambition, not for them, Parisians know that.”
Hidalgo refers to NKM as “my adversary”. She is gambling that Paris, which swung left in 2001, will choose her, the coal-eyed daughter of an immigrant Spanish labourer and seamstress, over NKM, the fair, patrician scion of a family of mayors, ambassadors and senators. “I wasn’t born with the idea that I would have a brilliant political career,” Hidalgo says. “I owe everything to the schools of the republic.”
Hidalgo does not share NKM’s prime ministerial and presidential ambitions. “I chose Paris over national politics,” she says. “When you’re lucky enough, like me, to know Paris deeply, to have this extremely strong bond of faith with my city, being mayor of Paris is sufficient ambition.
“If my adversary has national ambitions, that’s her problem. Paris is not a trampoline. Paris is not a city where you wipe your feet before moving on to bigger things.”
Hidalgo wants to create an additional 10,000 housing units annually. She founded an agency called Multiloc which insures landlords against insolvent and destructive tenants in exchange for lower rents. As head of urban affairs, Hidalgo has obtained the consent of the Greens for higher buildings – up to 15 floors – in certain districts.
“In areas with a lot of low-income housing, we’re transforming offices into middle-class apartments,” Hidalgo says.
“In districts like the [affluent] 7th, 8th and 16th, we’re converting office blocks into social housing. I want to create a sociological balance between districts. For example, last week I visited a building in the quartier St Honoré – very chic – 200,000 square metres of offices that I can transform into social housing inhabited by [poor] families.”
One couldn’t help wondering how the denizens of the quartier St Honoré – who include the US and British ambassadors and high fashion designers – will react to the influx of the underprivileged.
Lunch with Hidalgo ended with a question about the thousands of padlocks that lovers have clamped on to Paris bridges. “The initiative was totally independent, but it’s pretty, very pretty,” she says.
On hearing that someone from the municipal government was removing the padlocks, Hidalgo announced that she and her husband were about to buy one. That curtailed any anti-padlock zeal.
“Then one day I was doing an interview with French television on the Pont des Arts,” Hidalgo recounts. “We saw people with huge pliers, cutting off padlocks. I asked who they were . . . and, you won’t believe it – they were Romanians!”