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French political elite vie for Paris mayor's post

Although the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is not due to leave office for another year, the race to fill the coveted seat is already in full swing as France’s political elite vie for the prestigious position.


The mayor’s seat in Paris is a highly coveted position. Seen as a springboard to the presidency, it is considered one of the most powerful offices in France. Despite the fact municipal elections aren’t until 2014, the country is awash with speculation about who will replace current Mayor Bertrand Delanoë when his term expires next year.

First elected in 2001, Delanoë, a socialist, has used his position as mayor of France’s capital to introduce a number of ambitious social programmes and reforms. Although Delanoë has enjoyed relative popularity over the years, he has ruled out running for a third term in office and will step down as mayor when the time comes.

While that day is still a way off, political hopefuls are already vying for the seat, steeling themselves for the long battle ahead. In a calculated move, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (pictured above), a member of the right-wing UMP party, announced her candidacy on Friday in the French daily Le Parisien – more than a week before she was expected to.

“It wasn’t a simple decision, and it took me a long time to make. But it comes from a real commitment, a serious commitment, to which I will devote all my heart and energy,” said Kosciusko-Morizet, a spokesperson for former president Nicolas Sarkozy during his failed 2012 re-election campaign.

All eyes on the mayor’s office

French media have speculated that Kosciusko-Morizet’s decision to declare her bid early was prompted by rumours earlier in the week that the head of the newly-formed centre-right UDI party, Jean-Louis Borloo, was deliberating running as well. Borloo has since said he will not join the race, but did not exclude the possibility of another UDI candidate.

Borloo, who served as a cabinet minister under former presidents Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy, is only one of several political heavyweights from the centre or right who have mulled throwing their hats into the ring.

Former prime minister François Fillon, a prominent member of the UMP, flirted with the idea, but is widely expected to announce that he will not run during a conference in Paris on February 26.

Kosciusko-Morizet vs. Dati

But Kosciusko-Morizet’s real adversary on the right is fellow UMP member Rachida Dati – who announced her intention to run for the mayor’s office on February 9 – and the fight promises to be a fierce one.

Dati, who served as Sarkozy’s justice minister from 2007 to 2009, has never been coy about her political aspirations. Unlike Kosciusko-Morizet, whose family has long been part of the political elite, Dati rose to high government from relatively humble origins, the second of 12 children born to a Moroccan father and an Algerian mother. She had a variety of jobs before doggedly working her way into Sarkozy’s inner circle.

Known just as much for her chic wardrobe and for being a single mother as she is for her political prowess, Dati’s career has been marked by highs and lows. Forced to leave government as part of a cabinet reshuffle in 2009, she now serves as the mayor of Paris’ 7th arrondissement and as a member of the European Parliament.

Despite Dati’s high visibility, Kosciusko-Morizet enters the race as the clear favourite. According to an OpinionWay poll published in the French daily Le Figaro Friday afternoon, Kosciusko-Morizet would easily win a primary election to decide an official candidate for the right with 57 percent of the vote, versus Dati’s 11 percent.

Whichever candidate comes out on top will go up against the Socialist Party’s candidate and Delanoë’s deputy mayor for the past 12 years, Anne Hildalgo, who already has an edge in the polls.

The municipal elections are due to be held in March, 2014.

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