When it came time to pick a mayoral candidate, the mild-mannered, avuncular 50 year-old Delanoë was not the Socialists' first choice.
Paris Gets First Gay Mayor
by Juan Pérez Cabral
MARCH 19, 2001. In one fell swoop, the Sunday victory of Bernard Delanoë in the race for the Parisian mayoralty establishes an out gay person as top dog of a world-class city, while installing a left-wing alliance in the driver's seat of the city council for the first time since the 1871 Paris Commune.
Born in 1950 in the North African country of Tunisia, Delanoë returned to France with his family when he was a teenager. Until recently he was largely a political unknown, although he has been involved in politics since, at 23, he became secretary of the Socialist federation in France's Aveyron area. He was first elected to the Paris City Council in 1977, when he was 27. From 1981 to 1986, he represented the 18th district of Paris in the National Assembly (the Lower House of Parliament). In 1993 he became the head of the city's Socialist Party. In 1995, he was elected to the Senate, where he was secretary of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense.
When it came time to pick a mayoral candidate, the mild-mannered, avuncular 50 year-old was not the Socialists' first choice. The job ended on his lap almost by default, after one candidate was dispatched by a fraud inquiry, and another took a job within the national government. Much to the surprise of many in his own party, who thought he lacked charisma and national stature and had consistently underestimated him for years, Delanoë ran a robust campaign. He gained an instant edge when incumbent mayor Jean Tiberi was dumped as candidate of the Right establishment in favor of Philippe Séguin, after a series of scandals and revelations of cronyism, vote rigging, and generalized sleaze.
Delanoë's campaign has focused on political openness, fiscal responsibility, and, as he puts it, "unleashing the clean, fresh winds of change." This is "above all a choice that requires a change of culture and of democratic practices," he said. He's as open as French politicians get. Two years ago, he announced that he was gay during a TV interview.
While he has not taken an active part in the lesbian and gay community, and has irritated some queers with his "I'm gay, but it don't mean a thing" attitude, Delanoë will make a real difference to queers in Paris, and elsewhere in France. He has pledged to incorporate mention of lesbian and gay suffering in the city´s Holocaust memorial, and to end discrimination in municipal subsidies to civic groups, which should result in a lesbian and gay community center finally worthy of the city of lights and the enlightenment.
While Tiberi and Séguin were unable to solve their differences and subsequently split the right-wing vote on Sunday, Delanoë won with the support of the Green Party, which he sought after failing to win the absolute majority needed for election on the first round, a week ago. The Paris mayoral election follows a kind of electoral college format.
Delanoë's greenish plans for Paris include an anti-pollution tramway to ease Parisian traffic and lungs, and pedestrian malls.
President Jacques Chirac, of course, is fuming. He served as mayor for 18 years using his powerful position to launch himself into the presidency in 1995, after hand-picking Tiberi as his successor. He has treated the capital as his personal stomping ground for a quarter of a century. The defeat and disgrace of his protege, Tiberi, is a nasty blow. Worse, the loss of Paris, and Lyon, signal the uncertainty of his reelection bid, though the string of defeats dealt to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's socialists in the provinces have considerably dampened his own presidential prospects.
When Delanoë's win became known on Sunday night, some 10,000 victorious Parisians made their way to City Hall raising car keys, house keys, any kind of keys above their heads. Delanoë went to claim them. "Tonight it is time for a party in Paris in front of the City Hall, time for a democratic party from which no Parisians should feel excluded."
For a look at the hopping lesbian and gay scene in Paris, see Time Out.
For the Paris Gay and Lesbian Center. (In French).
For the official site of the Bertrand Delanoë campaign. (In French).
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