Paris set to get its first woman mayor, either leftist front-runner or conservative challenger

The Associated Press

FILE - In these Jan. 27, 2014 file photos, Anne Hidalgo, left, and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet are pictured during a campaign rally in Paris. Two women are at war to be the new face of Paris, vying to mark the first time in this city’s long history that the mayor won’t be a Monsieur. The discreet, hard-working Socialist Anne Hidalgo is the favorite to win municipal elections that start Sunday, which would keep this leading tourist destination in leftist hands. Kosciusko-Morizet, 40, is a former environment minister under Sarkozy’s government, largely considered as one of the rising star of the conservative UMP party. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

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Both have tried to spice up their programs. Hidalgo wants to use a former railway that surrounds Paris —and even its tunnels— to create places for urban art or mushroom and fish-breeding farms. Kosciusko-Morizet proposes to convert unused "ghost" stations of the Paris metro — currently closed to the public — into gyms, swimming pools or nightclubs.

Hidalgo benefits from the successful projects carried out by Mayor Delanoe, such as the Velib bike-sharing and Autolib auto-sharing services, and the creation of a beachfront each summer on the banks of the Seine.

But Kosciusko-Morizet says the Socialists in charge of Paris for the past 13 years have failed to make Paris attractive to young people, and she wants to change that.

"There's now a whole generation dreaming of living abroad, starting a business in London, being an artist in Berlin," she said.

She wants more stores to be open on Sunday, especially in tourist zones and luxury shopping streets — while Hidalgo says she'd stick to the traditional day of rest for employees.

Hidalgo benefits from Paris' system of indirect voting, in which the mayor is chosen by the 163 members of the City Council. Voters choose council members based on party lists in Paris' 20 districts, and Hidalgo's Socialists are very likely to be ahead in some of the most populated neighborhoods.

Image will also play a role.

According to surveys, Kosciusko-Morizet is mostly perceived as "dynamic" and "combative," said Yves-Marie Cann, political analyst with the CSA polling agency. Hidalgo's main assets are her ability to be "attentive to Parisians" and to unite people, and she is considered "a nice person," he said.

Such qualities may be just what it takes to become "Madame le maire."

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