The Magazine

The Battle for Paris

The next mayor of the French capital will be a woman. But which one?

Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By ROGER KAPLAN
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It is not the Left Bank that is red but the east side of the Right Bank, where the squares and streets have names like Bastille, Colonel Fabien (a Communist hero of the Resistance), and Bataille-de-Stalingrad. The arrondissements here still vote red, maybe from habit. The Twentieth stayed left in 2008 with nearly 70 percent of the votes, and there is no reason to believe it will change. Next door, the Nineteenth did the same, by a smaller majority.

The UMP led by NKM thought this was its year because President François Hollande, a Socialist, is very unpopular, despite his defense of black Africa, a task he has undertaken with a modesty and a determination that one would like to see in an American president engaged in long wars. The UMP is banking on voters’ anxieties over issues closer to them than Africa, such as the high cost of living, which combined with precarious employment can be hell. Anxiety, however, may be simply the normal French temperament, balanced by thoughts of the three-hour Sunday lunch and plans for the six weeks at the seashore in summertime. 

Hidalgo, bright, good-looking, capable, experienced in all aspects of municipal affairs, is ahead in the citywide polls, if not in the arrondissement where she is running, the Fifteenth, a nice, airy place to live, near the Champ de Mars, with parks and sports facilities. The arrondissement is held by the right and may well stay that way. But under the electoral-list system, Hidalgo will surely receive a seat on the arrondissement council, from which she could still make the move to the Paris city hall.

The problem with the right is that Kosciusko-Morizet, heiress to two great French families representing politics and commerce, and herself a brainy techie yuppie, is not well liked in the UMP. She is green, in the environmentalist sense of the word, she has an engineering bent, she is for modern things, innovation, science. Leading a deeply divided party and contending with the National Front ultras, she may see the left finally seize the Fifth, where Jean Tiberi’s son is leading a dissident right-wing list against NKM’s designated UMP regular. 

NKM, running in the Fourteenth, could win her council seat while, like her rival next door, leaving the other side in control of the district. Delusions of grandeur? Maybe the UMP thought that 2014 was so sure to be their year that they would sweep Paris the way Jacques Chirac used to, and NKM would garner fame and glory by capturing the red Fourteenth. 

In this regard at least, the Paris elections are representative of the contests in the country’s other 30,000 municipalities (the most in Europe; Germany, for example, has 12,000). The right is not expected to seriously dent the Socialists’ control of a large majority of French towns, with only Marseilles and Bordeaux among the bigs staying in conservative hands. By the same token, the National Front, competing seriously in under 100 localities, may get as many as 10, including depressed places like Forbach in the eastern rust belt and Hénin-Beaumont near Belgium, as well as some towns in its traditional bases in the Mediterranean south. 

We shall know soon enough. The east of Paris is red, the west is blue, and in between, the arrondissements around the Louvre, the tony streets, the Tuileries, the palace whence Hollande scooters about on secret love missions, are generally blue, but you never know these days, with the UMP and the Socialists happily being elites in the city where, they say, deserving Americans go after they die.

Roger Kaplan is a writer in Washington.

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