MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AFP) — The first woman elected mayor of Mexico City was sworn in Wednesday for a six-year term leading one of the world’s largest cities, in a country with a deep tradition of machismo.
Claudia Sheinbaum, a 56-year-old scientist and environmentalist, rode to victory in the July elections on the same anti-establishment wave that brought her ally and mentor to power, Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Grinning, Lopez Obrador — himself a former Mexico City mayor — raised Sheinbaum’s hand in a sign of victory after she took the oath of office before the city legislature. It was a potent symbol of the radical shift in Mexican politics, now dominated by the left-wing party he founded four years ago, Morena.
Sheinbaum echoed Lopez Obrador’s fervent anti-corruption message in her inaugural address.
“We are beginning a new era of honesty and eradicating the privileges long enjoyed by top officials,” she said.
“The first thing we will do is put an end to abuses. As of now, we are reestablishing democracy and political freedom.”
She vowed to end “the privatization of public spaces” in the sprawling capital of more than eight million inhabitants, whose greater urban area is home to some 20 million people.
And she promised to fight violence against women, in a country where gender inequality runs deep and more than seven women and girls are murdered each day, according to the United Nations.
Another woman previously served as Mexico City mayor on an interim basis — Rosario Robles, from 1999 to 2000 — but Sheinbaum is the first woman elected to the post.
Sheinbaum, who hails from a family of Jewish scientists, studied physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, earning a doctorate in energy engineering and going on to work as a consultant for the United Nations.
She was active in the university’s student movement, which rose up against an unpopular series of reforms at the institution in 1986.
She was one of many veterans of the movement to go into politics.
When Lopez Obrador was elected Mexico City mayor in 2000, he named Sheinbaum his environment minister.
She followed the fiery leader when he split with Mexico’s established left-wing party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), to launch Morena in 2014.
The following year, she won an election for district mayor of Mexico City’s Tlalpan neighborhood, Lopez Obrador’s own district and one of the 16 “delegations” that make up the city.
That was her launch pad for her mayoral campaign.
But her rapid rise has not been without controversy.
When a private elementary school in her district collapsed in the earthquake that rocked Mexico on September 19, 2017 — killing 19 children and seven adults inside — it emerged that the local government had granted dodgy construction permits to the school’s owner, who is today on the run from the law.
A group of victims’ families has brought criminal charges over the case, and wants Sheinbaum to face investigation.
After she cast her ballot in the July 1 elections, a protester shouted “Murderer!” at her as she left the polling station.
Sheinbaum vehemently denies responsibility for the school’s collapse, and accuses her opponents of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.