TV & Radio
Analysis: First stumble for Paris mayor
By Elizabeth Bryant
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Published July 13, 2005
PARIS -- Until last week it seemed Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe could do no wrong.
During his four years in office, he has launched a series of wildly popular projects, from Paris Plage, a faux Seine-side summer beach, to an all-night fall arts celebration and urban renovation efforts to make Paris a more attractive, fun and environmentally friendly city to live in.
Cinching the 2012 Olympics seemed the ultimate feather on Delanoe's chapeau. But since rival London stole the chance to host the games from under France's outraged nose last week, Delanoe has stumbled seriously and surprisingly.
In unusually blunt remarks Monday, Delanoe suggested that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the head of the London bid, Sebastien Coe, had crossed the line" of fair play and Olympic rules with their overly aggressive bid.
"I don't say they flirted with the line, they crossed right over," Delanoe told municipal politicians at a city council meeting Monday, in remarks that have since boomeranged in France and in Britain.
To be sure, French grumbling was widespread after the International Olympic Committee announced last Wednesday that London, and not seemingly shoe-in Paris had captured the 2012 games bid. Delanoe suggested again last week that London's aggressive lobbying did not amount to fair play.
But that was before London was hit by its worst terrorist attack since World War II. Now the perception is that Delanoe's latest barrage against the rival British city was badly timed at best, and that Delanoe was a sore and unfeeling loser at worst.
"When one looses, one must play fair as well," former French foreign Minister Michel Barnier told Le Figaro newspaper, in a less-than-subtle dig at Paris' mayor echoed by other French politicians.
"This lost is first of all our own. If Paris had won their bid by four points, we wouldn't have accepted it if someone accused us of winning badly," added Barnier, a conservative politician who was involved in another unsuccessful Paris bid to host the games, in 1992.
In a withering editorial Tuesday, the southern French newspaper Nice Matin described Delanoe's remarks as "childish."
"The depth of the disarray of the Paris mayor is proportional to the overestimation he has of his talents," the newspaper wrote. "Paris, France, the world -- nothing seems to him inaccessible... In short, this Olympic affair constitute for the mayor of Paris a major political and psychological shock."
Even the leftist Liberation newspaper was hardly complimentary of the city's Socialist mayor. To accuse Blair of violating Olympic rules, Liberation wrote "flirts with a lack of taste. The capital's candidacy was strong enough not to fall into that kind of mediocrity."
Some observers suggest Delanoe's Olympic dreams for Paris couched far more ambitious dreams for himself. One of France's only openly gay politicians, 55 year-old Delanoe has been floated as a possible leftist candidate for the 2007 presidential elections. In a recent poll, he tied with a handful of other Socialist heavyweights, including former finance minister Dominique Strauss Kahn, as the leftist politician French would most like to see run for president.
Such ambitions seemed unheard of only four year ago, when slight and little-known Delanoe was elected Paris' first leftist mayor in 130 years.
Born in Tunisia in 1950, Delanoe moved from North Africa to France as a teenager. He first waded into politics in his 20s, and was elected to the Paris city council in 1977.
In 2001, a leftist coalition won Paris municipal elections, and Delanoe became mayor. The post -- held by French President Jacques Chirac for years before his 1995 presidential bid -- is sometimes considered an ideal launching pad for more ambitious positions.
And Delanoe has proved a popular mayor. In his four years in office, he has improved bus and bike lanes in an effort to coax Parisians to use mass and nonpolluting transportation alternatives. Conservative politicians complain, however, that he has simply increased Paris' congestion problems.
Delanoe has also launched an architectural project to revamp Paris' old Les Halles market area in the city's center. And he increased the numbers of sorely lacking nursery school slots.
Still critics say he has failed to address another serious crunch: Paris' endemic housing shortage.
During a citywide arts celebration in 2002, Delanoe was stabbed by an assailant who later confessed to disliking politicians and homosexuals. Still, Delanoe is discrete about his private life, and some analysts suggest his sexual preferences would not pose a problem for many French should he run for the presidency.
A bigger problem is the perception that Delanoe represents an elitist, citified, minority slice of the French population -- the bohemian-bourgeois, or "bobos" -- who have little in common with millions of working class French living outside the city's limits.
Delanoe previously ruled out running for the 2007 elections. But speculation simmers.
"Isn't Delanoe tempted to walk in Jacques Chirac's footsteps and bid one day for the Elysee (presidential palace)?" France's conservative Le Figaro newspaper wrote, in a three-part profile on Delanoe published in May.
"On the left as on the right, since he said he wouldn't be a candidate in 2007, there is a feeling that he is preparing for 2012" when the next presidential elections take place, the newspaper wrote.
Delanoe's new reputation -- as an Olympics spoil sport -- may not dash his future, but it adds a black mark to a largely impressive political resume.