San Francisco fetes Paris mayorÂ
by Matthew S. Bajko
Bertrand DelanoÃ«, the openly gay mayor of Paris, charmed his way through San Francisco's political, cultural, and business circles last week during a three-day visit to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the sister city relationship between his city and "the Paris of the West."
DelanoÃ« is the first Parisian mayor to visit San Francisco since the sister cities agreement was signed in Paris on November 12, 1996 by then-Mayor Willie Brown. DelanoÃ« began his whirlwind tour of San Francisco on Wednesday, April 19 at the Palace of the Legion of Honor where he met the Paris-San Francisco Sister City Committee and toured the exhibition "After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006 â€“ Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire."
He arrived at City Hall on Thursday morning for a private meeting with Mayor Gavin Newsom and administration officials responsible for carrying out Newsom's homeless policies, then sat in on a meeting of digital media business leaders from both the Bay Area and Paris. Following the meeting, DelanoÃ« and Newsom signed a memorandum of understanding establishing Paris and San Francisco as "Digital Sister Cities" during a ceremony on the second floor balcony in City Hall.
"It is a great honor and pleasure to be the first mayor of Paris to visit this great city of San Francisco. I think it is a very important moment. San Francisco is a city that has a message for the world," said DelanoÃ« through a translator. "A message of equality for any individual whatever its identity. Paris and San Francisco must work together to develop beauty, knowledge, distribution of wealth, and the sharing of intelligence and pleasure."
Immediately thereafter, his hosts whisked DelanoÃ« off for a tour of the Academy of Art University's School of Fashion and a luncheon held at the school's art gallery on New Montgomery Street. He finished the day by accepting a key to the city on stage at the Castro Theatre to open the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival and then enjoyed a private dinner at the Getty Mansion hosted by Newsom.
After the policy discussion in the mayor's International Room, Newsom, who accompanied Brown and the sister city committee to Paris a decade ago, presented DelanoÃ« with a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate wine from his Plumpjack Winery, boasting that it is as good as the best of French wines and pleading with DelanoÃ« "Do drink it. Don't give it away." The gift included two glass goblets with the seal of the city as well as a silver wine topper. Newsom also presented his counterpart a copy of the book The San Francisco Century, which chronicles the city's destruction and rebirth after the great quake and fire of 1906, noting that in the city's heyday "San Francisco was known as the Paris of the West." In return, DelanoÃ« presented Newsom with a painting and a crystal wine decanter.
DelanoÃ«, 55, who like Newsom has been an outspoken proponent of gay marriage in his country, praised Newsom as "one of the young mayors of the world who raises the reputation of mayors everywhere."
"He is a man who can mix idealism with pragmatism and he can realize his objectives in the world," added DelanoÃ«.
Newsom was equally profuse during the film festival presentation, calling DelanoÃ« "someone who has transcended his borders, an authentic mayor who shares the values of San Francisco," adding as well that he is a "good-looking mayor from a great looking city."
DelanoÃ« is perhaps the highest ranking out politician in the world. He won election in 2001 and survived a knife attack in 2002 when a man stabbed him during a cultural event inside Paris' city hall. The first Paris mayor to march in the city's gay pride parade, DelanoÃ« drew criticism from President Jacques Chirac's ruling UMP party, and according to published reports, Francoise de Panafieu, a leading member of the UMP said at the time that the mayor should go back in his closet and stop "promoting his sexual orientation."Â
Asked about his being an "avowed homosexual" by a television reporter last week, DelanoÃ« said it has never been an issue with voters. He came out during a television interview prior to his winning election and his constituents, he said, have faith he can do the job.
"The information did not stop Parisians from voting to leave with me responsibility to run their city," he said. "Whether people agree or disagree with my policies, I am judged for my convictions and actions. I speak the word of truth."
Gay politicos in San Francisco said DelanoÃ« is an inspiration. An awed Supervisor Tom Ammiano, whose own aspirations to be mayor of San Francisco faltered in the last two elections, approached DelanoÃ« to say, "We are very proud of you."
James "Jimmer" Cassiol, Newsom's liaison to the LGBT community, said he was excited to have DelanoÃ« visit the city.
"I really appreciate the fact he talked about equality. We are not only fighting for equality here in the United States but around the world," said Cassiol. "I hope we have more out gay mayors around the world. It can only contribute to our fight for equality."
City Treasurer Jose Cisneros, himself an openly gay man, said it is exciting for the LGBT community to see other cities around the world embrace LGBT people for public office as San Francisco's residents repeatedly have done at the ballot box.
"For me it is always an inspiration to see quality leadership performing well for their community. I am happy to be here and strive everyday to do the same thing," Cisneros said after hearing DelanoÃ« speak.
Brown said DelanoÃ«'s position as mayor serves as an example to the world that one's sexuality, and being open about it, should not be an impediment to running for political office.
"He is easily the highest ranking gay elected official in the world. That is not, however, the main ingredient. He gets to provide the executive leadership for Paris as Mayor Newsom has provided the executive leadership for San Francisco," said Brown. "In his acknowledgement of his sexuality it is a statement that can't be replicated and clearly an education for the uninformed."
Bay Area Reporter publisher Tom Horn, chair of the San Francisco Sister City Committee who is fluent in French, said the policy discussion was a first for DelanoÃ«DelanoÃ«. Apart from sharing ideas and concerns about homelessness, the two mayors also discussed the dwindling numbers of children and families from their cities and the widening income gaps between their residents.
"It was the most significant meeting the mayor has ever had with another mayor," said Horn. "Usually, it is all about protocol. But they talked about issues both men are interested in."
The visit also marked a turning point in the two cities' relationship, noted Horn during the signing ceremony. Prior to last week, the sister city committee has done mainly cultural exchanges in dance, ballet, music, and fashion design. Now, along with the digital media accord, Horn announced the two municipalities are organizing a "major AIDS conference" in 2007 between San Francisco and French scientists.
"During this 10 years most projects have been cultural. We take our relationship to an even higher point today with the signing of the sister city digital media accord," said Horn, speaking in both French and English. "Mr. Mayor, your presence here is testimony to the strength of the relationship between Paris and San Francisco. With this new accord, the possibilities are limitless."