Schmich: Paris campaign a thrill in any language

All the candidates in the city's mayor race are women.

Incroyable.

That's French for "You must be pulling my leg."

And that was my first thought when I saw the news the other day that both major candidates in the mayor's race in Paris are women. What's more, not only are the two leading candidates female, so are all the minor candidates for the job.

If that's not incroyable, my French is even worse than I thought.

It's easy to believe, here in the enlightened 21st century, that the City of Light might elect a female mayor — a first, but hardly a shock — and it's not remotely a surprise that a woman would be running. We're past the days when the sight of a female candidate should make anyone exclaim, "Look, it's a girl!"

In fact, it may seem retro to the point of wrong to comment on the gender of candidates in any race. Aren't we ready to move on?

Not yet, mes amis.

The presence of one female candidate in a major political race is the kind of progress we might reasonably take for granted, as long as we remember that there was a time, not so long ago, when it was astonishing.

But two female candidates? More? All of them?

For those of us who grew up way back in the 20th century, the spectacle of a major political contest without a man in the mix still calls for a dose of smelling salts.

If you remain convinced that the gender equation in Paris' mayoral race isn't newsworthy, try to imagine the same scenario here in Chicago, which, incidentally, has long called itself Paris on the Prairie.

Make a list of the Chicago women who could muster the equipment needed to run for mayor — the money, the votes, the name recognition, the ego armor.

There's Toni Preckwinkle.

And there's Toni Preckwinkle.

And then, of course, there's Toni Preckwinkle.

Oh, and don't forget Toni Preckwinkle.

The list of women poised to run a serious campaign for mayor of Chicago is about as long as the list of Chicago winters without wind.

Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County Board, is the only woman whose name gets tossed around seriously, and she has made it clear she won't run in the coming election.

In 2011, when Rahm Emanuel was elected, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun was the only woman in the fraternity of rivals. She put up a fight, but by any measure it was hard to make the case that she was the best person for the job.

The same might be said of Jane Byrne, the first — and so far only — female mayor of Chicago, who served from 1979 to 1983.

When I saw the news of the Paris mayor's race posted on Facebook the other night, I tried to pinpoint why I found it exciting and why friends with whom I shared it did too.

Because women are inevitably better leaders than men? They're not. Because a woman is guaranteed to improve Paris? No mayor is.

It was just the thrill of seeing another door thrown open, and so wide, to a group that was once locked out of public power.

In a recent interview with a British paper, one of the top Parisian candidates, Anne Hidalgo, a deputy mayor backed by the Socialist party, said she was running in the "French feminist tradition of equality between the sexes — not the Anglo-Saxon feminist belief that women are better than men."

You don't have to be French to share her view.

And you don't have to be male to wage war the way men have since the invention of politics.

"Battle to be first female Paris mayor turns ugly," read a recent headline on a story documenting accusations and taunts between Hidalgo and her chief rival, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, also known as NKM, who is backed by the leading center-conservative party.

"I am a killer," NKM recently told a TV reporter. "Everybody is a killer in politics."

Entirely believable here in Paris on the Prairie. But we're still waiting for the women in a mayor's race who can put that theory to the test.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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