Math whiz sees good odds in Paris mayor race

Ambre TOSUNOGLU
Cedric Villani is hoping to beat out a fellow member of President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party in the Paris mayor race (AFP Photo/CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT )

Paris (AFP) - A star French mathematician said Wednesday that he was joining the fight to become the next mayor of Paris, a rebel candidacy that poses a tricky problem for the official candidate from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party.

Cedric Villani, 45, was part of a wave of political newcomers swept into parliament after Macron's outsider victory in the 2017 presidential vote.

With his long hair, billowing bowties and his penchant for ornate spider brooches, the winner of the 2010 Fields medal -- equivalent of a Nobel Prize in math -- quickly became a popular politician.

Yet he made no secret of his anger at being passed over by top officials in Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party this summer when he sought the endorsement for a Paris mayor run in the 2020 election.

Instead the party chose former government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux in a closed-door process Villani denounced as "corrupted."

"I will be the mayor of all Parisians, and I'll never be a man of any party," Villani told a crowd of supporters at a cafe in the city's 14th Arrondissement.

His outsider candidacy takes a page out of Macron's book -- the former finance minister in Francois Hollande's government broke ranks to make his own successful presidential run.

But in running against Griveaux, Villani could divide the rightwing and centrist voters hoping to oust the Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo in next year's vote.

Hidalgo, in office since 2014, has not yet revealed if she will seek re-election.

She has come under pressure in particular for an urban renovation strategy that aims to sharply curtail car use, and for a housing crisis that has made Paris increasingly unaffordable for middle-class households.

A BVA poll over the summer found both Villani and Griveaux garnering 25 percent in the first round of voting in next year's municipal elections -- four percentage points behind Hidalgo.