Who Is Anne Hidalgo? Paris' Mayor Supports Attack Victims, Muslim Communities & Refugees
Since taking office in April 2014, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has faced France's two worst terrorist attacks this century. Both the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January and Friday's shootings and suicide bombings present an unprecedented challenge for the city. And yet the socialist politician — who is Paris' first female mayor — has maintained an elegance in her reactions and responses which befit someone with much more experience. Her open arms to refugees, her emphasis on inclusion, and her solidarity with all Parisians could perhaps stem from her upbringing as an immigrant, as well as her adult life as a Parisian.
Hidalgo's first statement after Friday's rampage, a message of defiance and solidarity, said that the attackers' target was freedom. "Tonight Paris is paying a high price faced with terrorism, but we are still standing, and we will continue to stand," Hidalgo told reporters. "The sites that were hit were places where Parisians like to go out, where the youth of Paris likes to go on the weekends at night. So the idea was to hurt that freedom, that youth. The toll is terrible and I want to tell the families and the victims, once again, that we are with them."
Hidalgo is no stranger to the neighborhood where the attacks were held. She held one of her first campaign rallies at the Bataclan nightclub, where 89 people were killed. She also knew one of the Charlie Hebdo editors killed in January. In an interview with Financial Times in February, Hidalgo explained how Paris was hurt during the January attacks because stores were empty, and that it would take some time to bounce back. "It is not just that people were worried. I think they just didn’t want to leave home. They wanted to talk instead, to be together and to discuss what was going on in the country."
On Monday, as Parisian lawmakers started session with a minute of silence, she sent messages of condolences to the families and victims yet again. "When your heart falters, the great heart of Paris will support you. When your heart is suffering, the heart of Paris will soothe you," she tweeted. On Sunday, she reiterated her feelings in a long post on her Facebook page. She called on Parisians to be strong, to continue being themselves, to honor the collective Parisian identity, and to remain open to the world and live passionately in peace.
Hidalgo was born in Spain and was named Ana at birth, but her family had a history of moving to France in difficult times. Her grandparents fled Spain after the end of the Spanish Civil War as right-wing dictator Francisco Franco consolidated power. Her grandfather, a socialist, eventually returned to Spain with his family and was given the death penalty, although it was commuted to life in prison. In 1959, Hidalgo was born, and just two years later, her parents took her and her sister to France, this time for economic reasons. She became a French citizen at 14 and changed her name to Anne.
Since the January attacks against Charlie Hebdo, Hidalgo has been adamant about standing up for all in Parisian society. In February, she told USA Today that Paris is made stronger by its Jewish and Muslim citizens, and that the city should fight against discrimination aimed at both groups. She said that more jobs and opportunities needed to be provided to Paris's Muslim communities, but that to ask them to integrate into society more is impossible, because they are already French.
"We must fight with security, but also through education and inclusion," she said in February. "It's important to deconstruct the myth the terrorists create around their activities. Their activities lead to death. (Real) heroes are people who succeed, go to school, engage with society and can talk to their neighbors even when they're different."
At a difficult time like this, Paris is lucky to have a leader like Hidalgo.