Gérard Collomb, Mayor of Lyon

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Gérard Collomb
Mayor of Lyon, France
By Andrew Stevens

4 June 2010: Mayor of France’s third-largest city, Gérard Collomb has been active in both municipal and national political life since his first election in 1977. A key lieutenant of Ségolène Royal’s moderate faction of the Socialist Party, he holds a number of regional and international roles in addition to the Lyon mayoralty to which he was first elected in 2001. Instigator of the successful cycle hire scheme since emulated by other European cities, he has since sought to reposition the city with an imaginative link up with Dubai. Gérard Collomb has been shortlisted for the 2010 World Mayor Prize.

Born in 1947 in Chalon-sur-Saône (Bergundy), Collomb received a preparatory education at the Lycée du Parc (adjacent to the Parc de la Tête d'Or, France’s largest) in Lyon’s sixth arrondissement. The school is famous for being the alma mater of the Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, where Radical prime minister and longstanding Lyon mayor Édouard Herriot also taught. After attending university in the city, he qualified as a teacher of Classics and taught at the Lycée Jean Perrin in the ninth arrondissement, which he later represented on the city council, first elected in 1977.

Collomb has been a member of the French Socialist Party (PS) since its formation in 1969 and was elected to the French National Assembly as a deputy for the Rhône amid the “pink surge” of François Mitterrand’s presidential victory in 1981, aged 34, serving until 1988. During this period he also acted as an official of the PS, liaising with other left parties and groups, a key task for the left coalition nationally, before becoming national secretary in 1986.

Upon his standing down from the national assembly, he devoted himself to municipal affairs and led the opposition to the Gaullist administration of Michel Noir, elected in 1989. In 1992 he became Secretary-General of the Jean Jaurés Foundation, the international socialist foundation to honour the French socialist leader, as well as a regional councillor for Rhône-Alps (until 1999).

Though defeated in the 1995 city elections for mayor by former prime minister Raymond Barre (of the Union for French Democracy), he was elected mayor of its ninth arrondissement and continued to lead the Socialist opposition in the city, becoming vice president of the Urban Community of Lyon (one of 16 intercommunal agglomerations in France and its largest). In 1999 he was chosen by the college of electors to sit in the French Senate and continues to do so today.

As leader of the red-green Plural Left list in the 2001 city elections in which Barre stood down after only one term, Collomb finally took office as mayor amid a set of results generally beneficial to the left (Bertrand Delanoë was also elected mayor of Paris that year) on account of a divided right-wing ticket in both Lyon and Paris. He was also elevated to the presidency of the Greater Lyon urban community that year. Collomb was re-elected PS Senator for the Rhône in 2004 and as mayor and Greater Lyon president in 2008, defeating former minister Dominique Perben of President Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement on the first ballot.

Without doubt, Collomb’s singular and signature achievement as mayor has been the Vélo’v bike hire scheme in the city, which then inspired Paris’ better known Vélib’ (since emulated by London) in 2007. The scheme augments already expansive public transport provision in the city, with a four-line Metro and a new tram network (since 2001). Lyon is also engaged in a unique project with the city of Dubai, Lyon-Dubai City, which will see the reproduction of some of its neighbourhoods and landmarks in the Gulf metropolis. On the national stage, Collomb is also European and international lead for the French Association of City Mayors and President of the Association of Urban Communities, while internationally he has held the presidency of both Eurocities and the United Cities and Local Governments organisation.

Outside of his municipal roles, Collomb is perhaps best known in French political life as a leading figure of the PS, acting as principal faction leader of the moderate ‘Royalist’ tendency for 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, alongside Évry mayor Manuel Valls. At the 2008 Reims Congress, Collomb’s ‘Hope on the left, proud to be Socialist’ motion on behalf of Royal’s party leadership ambitions was eventually defeated by former minister and Lille mayor and urban community president Martine Aubry following Bertrand Delanoë’s withdrawal from the race.

Gérard is the second Collomb to lead Lyon, as his namesake Francisco (d. 2009) served as its mayor between 1976 and 1989 and also served as Senator for the Rhône and president of the Urban Community of Lyon. The late Collomb was defeated by one term mayor Michel Noir of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic in 1989, who stood down in 1995 owing to a judicial indictment preventing him seeking a second term, with Rhône deputy Raymond Barre stepping in to the breach on behalf of the right. Since the 1970s the city had been largely led by parties of the centre-right, though Édouard Herriot served as its mayor from 1905-1957 (apart from during the Second World War), replaced on his death by Louis Pradel (1957-1976) of the same party.

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