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Spanish migrant Hidalgo becomes first woman mayor of Paris

Photo: AFP

Born in Spain and naturalised French at the age of 14, Anne Hidalgo has made history by becoming the first woman mayor of Paris, her new role confirmed on Saturday by a vote of city councillors.

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The outcome of the city council's vote was a foregone conclusion because Hidalgo’s left-wing coalition won a majority of seats on the council during municipal elections held on March 30. The mayor of Paris is then chosen by council members in an electoral-college-style system.

Hidalgo, 54, won last Sunday's municipal election by a narrow margin and following an uninspiring campaign against right-wing rival Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

Her victory was nevertheless significant as it stood against the popular tide. Municipal elections nationwide saw massive gains for the conservative UMP party.

Political allies said they were not surprised that Hidalgo bucked the dominant trend to claim Paris's city hall, and that she began her path toward victory long ago and far away.

From Andalucía to Paris

Born in 1959 in southern Spain, Hidalgo came to France as a young child with her family, fleeing poverty and the regime of General Francisco Franco.

She grew up in an underprivileged neighbourhood of Lyon. After university studies in Lyon and Paris, she began her career as a civil servant in the labour inspection department in Paris in 1984.

A decade later, in 1994, she joined the Socialist Party and became a cabinet advisor to former prime minister Lionel Jospin, working especially on the issue of employment equality for women.

Starting in 2001, and up to her election, she served as deputy mayor of Paris under Bertrand Delanoe.

From the shadows to the spotlight

Critics have often dismissed Hidalgo as someone lacking the charisma needed to lead Paris, accusing her of simply surfing on Delanoe’s popularity to reach her position.

However, political allies are quick to hail her intrepid spirit and say she has all the qualities needed to head one of the world’s financial and cultural capitals.

“As soon as you know her you fall under her spell,” city councilman Jean-Luc Romero told FRANCE 24. “She's an intelligent woman, a woman who works extremely hard and who has an extraordinary capacity for leadership. She’s also very funny.”

Parisians will quickly be able to form their own opinion of Hidalgo as she steps into one of the most prominent roles in French politics. The woman who worked quietly in the shadow of Delanoe for 13 years is now at the forefront in the City of Light.

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