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IN CITY OR COUNTRYSIDE: MAYORS FIGHT ON ALL FRONTS | M6 | Zone Interdite

At a time when the French no longer trust their politicians, mayors are holding onto their popularity rating. Accessible, available almost 24 hours a day, ready to go the extra mile to solve their citizens’ problems. Who are these men and women who have to do such much with fewer and fewer resources? Do they still hold real power? Our teams went out to meet them at a time when one mayor in three is considering throwing in the towel and not stand for office again. Benoît Hennart is the “jack-of-all-trades” mayor of Quitteboeuf, a tiny village deep in the Normandy countryside. Previously, this non-aligned representative was boss of a small general building company and even today he never goes anywhere without his tool kit. He repairs the church, serves lunch in the kids’ canteen and provides help to all his fellow citizens. His office pays 1,2000 € per month, which he reinvests in his commune! His challenge: to keep the village alive by fixing up abandoned businesses. The residents need a butcher’s shop so he takes on a personal debt of 250,000 € to buy and bring a store up to standard. He set his wife and daughter to work as volunteers on the construction lot: no question of straining Quitteboeuf’s slender budget: “they won’t be able to accuse me of ruining Quitteboeuf if it doesn’t work”, he says. The premises are ready, the rent is modest, but will he manage to persuade a butcher to set up shop? In Chanteloup-les-Vignes in the Paris region, Catherine Arenou (various right), a former GP, has been fighting for twelve years to change the image of her town, tarnished by crime and trafficking. She herself says, “You don’t become a doctor by chance, you don’t become mayor by chance and you’re not mayor of any old town by chance.” It’s a hard struggle: during our shoot, a spectacular fire and a night of rioting threaten to reduce her efforts to naught. But, at 66, this mayor-courage is determined not to give up. Sylvine Thomassin (Socialist Party) runs Bondy, a town of over 54,000 residents… in a department with a bad reputation: Seine-Saint-Denis. “A mayor is always between kicks and kisses, as I put it.” Lack of resources, unemployment and insecurity are her daily challenges. This former midwife, aged 60, and mother of four children, is one of the five mayors who have filed a complaint against the government for breach of equality.  When Marième Tamata-Varin (non-aligned) was elected in Yèbles, a small commune in Seine-et-Marne, she herself was almost surprised. A woman, of Mauritanian origin and of Muslim faith, elected mayor in a village that voted more than 50% for Marine Le Pen in the last presidential elections, she has already risen to one incredible challenge! “I’ve known racism. I’m not frightened for myself. But for my family.” Today, she is constantly juggling between her husband, her two children, her work (3 days per week in Paris) and her job as mayor. Her great achievement? To have succeeded in bringing everybody together during her mandate! She saved the village school by collecting more than one million euros using the idea of appealing for crowdfunding and individual donations. In four years, the village has gained 300 extra residents. But now Marième Tamata-Varin has a fresh battle on her hands: she is trying to prevent the location of a dump for toxic Seveso-type waste just 50 metres from her village… And Bruno Ficheux (Union of Democrats and Independents), in the Nord, is a sort of Youtuber mayor. This 57-year-old single father has no hesitation in filming himself and putting his productions on line, primarily to inform residents. However, most importantly, to advance his cases with the Department. Despite his opponents and detractors: “There are 36,500 of us mayors and we’re not all the same types and we don’t have the same problems. But when you’re a commune of this size (6,300 residents), you can communicate in a modern way.”.