It’s also an industrial town that has been hemorrhaging jobs as companies move operations overseas. So it’s no surprise that unemployment is the main issue for candidates running for mayor this week.
Philippe Blet, who is running with the opposition evokes the statistics: “6,400 people on minimum wage, 14% unemployment, despite the potential in this city.
Blet is second on a list headed by Natacha Bouchard. She’s trying to beat the incumbent mayor, a member of the Communist Party, which has been running the city for almost four decades.
Blet is knocking on doors in a public housing tower in the Beau Marais, a neighborhood a couple of kilometers from downtown—a group of isolated blocks rising out of parking lots. The stairwells of this 14-story building are covered with graffiti. The elevators work intermittently.
One woman he talks to says that poor people are not being taken care of. She worked in hotels in Paris, but can’t find a job here. She’s 45 years old: a bit too old to get hired she says, but not old enough to get retirement benefits. She wonders if she shouldn’t have left the Paris area. Blet elicits similar dissatisfaction from everyone he talks to.
Almost a third of Calais’ 73,000 people live in social housing. The city and the region have some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Supporters of the current mayor Jacky Henin are going door-to-door in another neighborhood. These are two-story townhouses, with front yards. Those who answer the door tend to be elderly women.
Henin defends his record on jobs. He also says that mayors can only do so much to bring in companies. “If mayors could bring jobs to a city, there would be employment everywhere in the world,” says Henin. “I can support companies. But I don’t decide which ones come here. The mayor of Saint Omer, which is next to us, who is on the right: he just had 2,500 people laid off. Am I going to say they left because he’s on the right? No, it has nothing to do with him. It’s just that in Europe, jobs are constantly being outsourced overseas.”
Calais has had a Communist mayor for decades. As industrial jobs have left, though, the party doesn’t have as many factory workers to depend on for votes. In the national election last year, people voted overwhelmingly for the Socialist candidate Segolene Royale. So in order to win a majority, the Communist party has had to join forces with the Socialist party. The mayor’s second in command is Socialist Charles Francois.
“I want to create a base on the left against the right-wing national politic,” he says. “Calais is traditionally on the left, anyway which is rather unified and votes for the most well placed leftist candidate.”
Fatima Capon is on the Mayor’s list, a member of the communist party. She says this race is about uniting the left:
“It’s the left, just one against the right,” she says. “It’s not just the Communist Party. You’ve got the Socialist Party, too. I don’t think there’s a difference- in this fight we are together.”
Though local elections tend to be decided overwhelmingly over local issues, they’re also political, a kind of referendum on the national government. It’s likely that voters in Calais will re-elect a leftist government, continuing the Communist party’s rule for another six years. But the opposition may well tap into enough disenchantment that people will vote for a change.
In any case, the first of two rounds of voting on Sunday may well determine the final outcome, as the smaller parties—the greens, the far left and the far right—won’t have a huge effect on the final results.Listen to the report:
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