Mexico City elects first-ever Jewish mayor, exit poll shows

Scientist Claudia Sheinbaum, allied with left-wing presidential candidate, projected to take helm of largest city in North America, also becoming first woman elected to post

Claudia Sheinbaum of the "Juntos haremos historia" coalition party, gives her thumb up after casting her vote during the general elections in Mexico City, on July 1, 2018. (AFP/ Bernardo Montoya)
Claudia Sheinbaum of the "Juntos haremos historia" coalition party, gives her thumb up after casting her vote during the general elections in Mexico City, on July 1, 2018. (AFP/ Bernardo Montoya)

Mexico City has elected a Jewish person as mayor for the first time in history, local politician and scientist Claudia Sheinbaum, according to exit polls.

Sheinbaum, 56, has made a rapid political rise to lead North America’s largest city — though it has not been without controversy.

She won the election to lead North America’s largest city with between 47.5 and 55.5 percent of the vote, according to an estimate by polling firm Mitofsky.

She is also the first woman ever elected to the post. Her victory is a historic electoral win in a country with deep-rooted problems of gender inequality and violence against women.

A woman had previously served as mayor of the capital on an interim basis — Rosario Robles, from 1999 to 2000 — but Sheinbaum, who holds a doctorate in physics, is the first woman elected to the post.

Sheinbaum worked as an environmental engineer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico until recently. She spent four years as a PhD student in California.

“Just because I might look like a skinny scientist doesn’t mean I’m not going to crack down on crime here. I will,” she recently told the crowd at a rally in the capital.

In a speech last month, Sheinbaum, who also goes by Sheinbaum Pardo, told a Jewish audience she was connected with the Jewish community thanks to her grandparents, who emigrated from Lithuania and Bulgaria.

“We celebrated all the Jewish holidays at my grandparents’ house,” she said.

Almost all of Mexico’s 40,000 Jews live in Mexico City, according to the World Jewish Congress.

Mexico’s presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City, on June 27, 2018.

Sheinbaum is aligned with left-wing Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was also expected to have a strong showing in Monday’s vote.

Exit polls showed other Obrador allies doing well in several states. Surveys conducted by Mitofsky and Televisa forecast gubernatorial wins for allies of his Morena party in Chiapas, Morelos, Tabasco and Veracruz.

Sheinbaum was among the first politicians to leave Mexico’s established left-wing party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and join Lopez Obrador’s breakaway, Morena, when he formally launched it in 2014.

People cast their vote during the presidential election on a polling station in Xochimilco, Mexico City on July 1, 2018.
(AFP PHOTO / Guillermo Arias)

The following year, she won election as district mayor of Mexico City’s Tlalpan neighborhood, Lopez Obrador’s own district and one of the 16 “delegations” that make up the sprawling capital of more than nine million people.

That was the launch pad for her mayoral campaign — but she has been embroiled in controversy along the way.

Tlalpan was one of the areas hardest hit when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake devastated central Mexico on September 19, 2017.

Sheinbaum’s district became the center of world attention when the Rebsamen elementary school collapsed in the quake, killing 19 children and seven adults inside.

It later emerged the district had granted dodgy construction permits to the private school’s owner — who is today on the run from the law — allowing her to build an apartment for herself on top of the building, which destabilized the structure.

Police officers cordon off a street after a building collapsed during a quake in Mexico City on September 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ronaldo Schemidt)

A group of victims’ families has brought criminal charges over the case, and wants Sheinbaum to face investigation.

She vehemently denies responsibility, and accuses her opponents of exploiting the tragedy for political reasons.

But she has been the target of unrelenting anger from victims’ families and their sympathizers — including on election day.

“Murderer!” a protester shouted at her after she cast her ballot.

Born into a family of scientists, Sheinbaum 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 and help launch the PRD in 1989 — the main opposition party in what was then a one-party state.

She married fellow student activist Carlos Imaz in 1987.

Imaz was among the most recognizable faces of the Mexican left, also governing the Tlalpan district, until in 2004, he was one of several top officials caught on camera accepting large sums of cash.

An aerial view of Mexico city. (Wikipedia/Fidel Gonzalez/CC BY 3.0)

He avoided jail time, but resigned and faded from politics. The couple separated in 2016. They have a daughter.

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 the PRD to found Morena, and is seen as a close ally, winning the party’s mayoral nomination in August over the man who was considered the favorite, veteran politician Ricardo Monreal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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