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The major political figure in Toulouse is Dominique Baudis, the charismatic mayor of Toulouse between 1983 and 2001, member of center-right UDF.

First known as a journalist famous for his coverage of the war in Lebanon, 36 year-old Dominique Baudis succeeded his father Pierre Baudis in 1983 as mayor of Toulouse. (Pierre Baudis was mayor from 1971 to 1983.)

The Baudis dynasty succeeded in turning Toulouse into a center-right stronghold, whereas historically the city was leaning to the left since the 19th century. Dominique Baudis is also known as a writer who wrote historical novels about the ancient counts of Toulouse, their crusade in the Middle East, and the Albigensian Crusade.

During his time as mayor, Toulouse's economy and population boomed. Baudis' policies were deliberately moderate, and he always tried to accommodate (opponents would say anesthetize) the left. He tried to strengthen the international role of Toulouse (such as its Airbus operations), as well as revive the cultural heritage of the city.

The Occitan cross, flag of Languedoc and symbol of the counts of Toulouse, was chosen as the new flag of the city, instead of the traditional coat of arms of Toulouse (which included the fleurs-de-lis of the French monarchy). Many cultural institutions were created, in order to attract foreign expatriates and emphasize the city's past.

For example, monuments dating from the time of the counts of Toulouse were restored, the city's symphonic concert hall (Halle aux Grains) was refurbished, a city theater was built, a Museum of Modern Art was founded, the Bemberg Foundation (European paintings and bronzes from the Renaissance to the 20th century) was established, a huge pop music concert venue (Zénith, the largest in France outside Paris) was built, the space museum and educational park Cité de l'Espace was founded, etc.

To deal with growth, major housing and transportation projects were launched. Perhaps the one for which Baudis is most famous is the subway of Toulouse: line A of the subway was opened in 1993, and Baudis succeeded in having work started on line B (scheduled to open in 2006), despite strong local opposition to the anticipated costs.

The creation of a system of underground car parking structures in downtown Toulouse was sharply criticized by the Green Party, although it certainly fulfilled the demands of downtown Toulouse store and shop owners, and makes life easier for people who cannot use public transportation to go downtown. Today, even opponents cannot deny that the face of Toulouse has completely changed in the space of 20 years.

Despite all these massive undertakings, the city's economy proved so strong that Dominique Baudis was able to announce, in 1999, that the city had finished repaying its debt, making it the only large city in France ever to achieve solvency.

In Europe, typical per capita city debt for a city the size of Toulouse is around 1,200 euros (US $1,550). Achieving solvency was a long-standing goal for Baudis, who had said that he would extinguish city debt before leaving office. Local opposition, however, has criticized this achievement, saying that the task of governments is not to run zero-deficit, but to ensure the well-being of citizens, through social benefits, housing programs for poor people, etc.

Despite the controversy, what remains certain is that the city has decreased local taxes in the recent years, due to the end of the burden of the debt, and Toulouse has one of the lowest level of taxation in Europe.

In 2000, Dominique Baudis was at the zenith of his popularity, with approval rates of 85%. To everyone's astonishment, he announced that he would not run for a fourth (6-year) term in 2001.

He explained that with 3 terms he was already the longest-serving mayor of Toulouse since the French Revolution; he felt that change would be good for the city, and that the number of terms should be limited. He endorsed Philippe Douste-Blazy, then UDF mayor of Lourdes as his successor.

Baudis has since been appointed president of the CSA (Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel) in Paris, the French equivalent of the American FCC.

Not as charismatic or well-know as Dominique Baudis, Philippe Douste-Blazy narrowly won in the 2001 elections, which saw the left making its best showing in decades. Douste-Blazy has had to deal with a reinvigorated political opposition, as well as with the dramatic explosion of the AZF plant in late 2001.

Harboring national ambitions, unlike Baudis who always refused to become a national figure and preferred to focus on Toulouse, Douste-Blazy was often perceived as using Toulouse only as a springboard to launch his national political career in Paris.

Indeed, in March 2004 he entered the national government, and left Toulouse in the hands of his second-in-command Jean-Luc Moudenc, elected mayor by the municipal council. (Douste-Blazy remains president of the Community of Agglomeration of Greater Toulouse.) Jean-Luc Moudenc, however, does not command authority over his majority the way that Dominique Baudis did.

Members of the majority fear that Toulouse could well elect a mayor from the left at the next (2008) election, and the figure of Baudis is largely missed. Indeed, his shadow still looms large over city hall, and many an insider murmurs that Baudis, who is still closely following local political events from Paris, will make his grand return to Toulouse in 2007 when he steps down from the Presidency of the CSA.

Credits : This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Toulouse".


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