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Parisians To Elect New Mayor Sunday

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The residents of Paris go to the polls on Sunday to choose a new mayor. Three candidates are vying for the influential position. And for the first time, all of them are women. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Current socialist mayor and frontrunner Anne Hidalgo pedals through the city campaigning on her bicycle. The pillar of Hidalgo's term has been making Paris more bike and pedestrian-friendly by getting rid of cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNE HIDALGO: (Through interpreter) This consumption society that led to such disrespect of the planet, this is behind us now. It's a model of the past. Young generations don't want to live like that anymore.

BEARDSLEY: Journalist and longtime Paris resident Lindsey Tramuta has a new book entitled "The New Parisienne: The Women And Ideas Shaping Paris." Tramuta says, for once, female candidates are not being judged by how they measure up to men.

LINDSEY TRAMUTA: We're looking at them not based on their likeability, their legitimacy faced with or pitted against other men, but really just, what are their policies? Who is the right person, the right woman, to do the job?

BEARDSLEY: Women are also poised to take control in the municipal elections in other big cities - Strasbourg, Lille and Marseilles - a real breakthrough in a country largely governed by men. Hidalgo's main competition in Paris comes from conservative Rachida Dati, justice minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

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RACHIDA DATI: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Dati's campaigning on what she calls the leftist mayor's weaknesses, law and order and dirty streets. The stylish, stiletto-heel wearing daughter of Moroccan immigrants is a French rags to riches success story. Political commentator Christophe Barbier says her Conservative Party considered Paris a boy's club until Dati proved otherwise.

CHRISTOPHE BARBIER: Rachida Dati is quite a bad boy in politics. And I think the citizens from the right wing love that. She is courageous. She's brutal. But she fight. She fight against the left. But first, she fought against her friends in politics who said, no, not a woman in Paris.

BEARDSLEY: In distant third place is Agnes Buzyn, the candidate from President Emmanuel Macron's Centrist Party. She stepped up after Macron's first choice, a man, was forced to drop out over a sexting scandal. But Buzyn, the former health minister, also sparked outrage when she admitted she knew the pandemic was coming in January but never said anything. Barbier says the big loser in this election is President Macron.

BARBIER: The city of Paris was like a big fruit. He just had to take the fruit and to choose the good candidate to take the fruit. But Emmanuel Macron failed. In human resources, Emmanuel Macron is the worst president we have ever had in France.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: In a recent debate, Hidalgo looked on calmly as her two rivals argued. Over her six-year term, the mayor has made plenty of enemies, not least by turning roadways into bike lanes. But Tramuta says the pandemic has proved her right.

TRAMUTA: Her handling of COVID-19 and the city's sort of response to it by adding 50 kilometres worth of extra bike lanes and allowing all of these restaurants to have free terraces that spill into the street until end of September.

BEARDSLEY: That is what Parisians want after the coronavirus says, Tramuta, pure air, less noise and better quality of life. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF A PICTURE OF HER'S "CREEPERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.