Have two mayoral candidates met their Paris match?
Parisians have to choose between the deputy mayor and the flamboyant and combative woman who is hot on her heels
First lady: Anne Hidalgo, deputy mayor of Paris and Socialist Party candidate in the forthcoming mayoral election campaigning in a city restaurant. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer
First lady: Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, conservative UMP party candidate in the forthcoming Paris mayoral election, speaking to a butcher at a street market while campaigning in the city. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Parisians will elect a woman mayor for the first time on March 30th. The demography of the capital favours the current deputy mayor, 54-year-old Anne Hidalgo, the daughter of working-class Spanish immigrants and the protegee of the outgoing socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë.
But 40-year-old Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former conservative cabinet minister from a family of mayors, ambassadors and senators who have been active in French politics for four generations, is a serious challenger.
For the first time NKM, as she is known, overtook Hidalgo in a poll on Thursday, with 39 per cent of intended votes in the first round, compared with 38 per cent for Hidalgo. However, Hidalgo would still win the run-off, with 51.5 per cent to 48.5 per cent for NKM.
Over lunch of sauerkraut and red wine with European journalists, NKM explains her philosophy of the city. “Everyone seeks a form of emancipation in Paris,” she says. “Whether collective or individual, economic or social. In every epoch, people ‘come up’ to Paris from the provinces to work and to climb the social ladder. That’s the story of every Rastignac [the ambitious student in Balzac’s Old Goriot] . . . One expects something special of Paris, the ordinary and the extraordinary.”
Where Hidalgo is discreet and team-spirited, NKM is flamboyant and combative, with a tendency to spar with right-wing male rivals. She has a sparkle and star power that Hidalgo lacks. Four books have been published about NKM, and none about Hidalgo.
When NKM was pregnant in 2006, she posed for Paris Match in a gossamer dress, lying on a bed of leaves like a wood sylph, alongside a harp. Once, when inaugurating a swimming pool, she took off a long coat to reveal a swimsuit, and dived in.
Perhaps only in France would an engineering degree from the prestigious École Polytechnique and a prominent family be disadvantages. “I tend to agree with the 48 per cent who find her arrogant,” Hidalgo said of NKM last summer. “Having worked hard to pass a competitive exam shouldn’t be considered a defect,” NKM replies. “And I’m not going to apologise for my family.”
NKM’s alleged presidential ambitions are another argument Hidalgo uses against her. The election “is about serving Paris, not using Paris,” Hidalgo said in her closing barb during their first debate on Wednesday evening.
“I can’t say where I’ll be in 20 years,” NKM replies. “But if I’m chosen by the citizens of Paris, I will resign from the National Assembly and will not stand for any other office during my term.”
Because of deep dissatisfaction with President Hollande, the socialists expect to take a battering in the nationwide municipal elections. NKM has so far refrained from exploiting what could be the winning card. She doesn’t mention Hollande once during lunch. She doesn’t mention Hidalgo either, but criticises the socialists’ “ideological management” of the capital.