He changed teams but he swears he didn’t change his mind. Emerald lavaliere and flamboyant spider pinned to the jacket, Cédric Villani does educational work on the Ulis market square. The commune, the most populated and the most popular of the fifth district of Essonne, voted 46% for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the presidential election. “I argued with Emmanuel Macron in 2020”explains to a questioning voter the candidate freshly invested by the New Popular Ecologist and Social Union (Nupes).
Surprise candidate of La République en Marche in 2017, the now outgoing deputy consummated his divorce from the Head of State during the municipal elections, when the presidential party refused him the nomination for mayor of Paris in favor of Benjamin Griveaux . The researcher then attempted an unsuccessful solo candidacy, and temporarily turned his back on his Essonne voters. A dissidence that was also ideological, assures Cédric Villani:
In 2017, I thought it was necessary to entrust the keys to a personality who impressed by his ease with social issues. Today, I am still looking for what macronism means. Cedric Villani
The mathematician, now a member of Generation Ecology, defines himself as an elected “more sharp on his files” and with “five years of work at the Assembly” : “To those who think that I have changed my beliefs, I answer that I am still the European federalist and environmental activist that I was.” Has he become a mélenchoniste for all that? “With Nupes, we have a program that is clear with points of divergence assumed. Parliament will decide, with freedom of vote of course”he specifies, while rejecting being “subjugated” to the leader of the rebels.
Bicycle helmet in hand, the deputy continues to make his electoral market and leaves his phone number twice in the space of five minutes to passers-by. One asks him why the renewal of residence permits takes so long, the second explains to him that his son, a student at Sciences Po, would like to meet him. “My team told me I was crazy doing this: in truth, people don’t abuse it. If I can solve even one in ten problems, that’s it.”
The start-up nation in reconquest mode
A bird’s-eye view of the popular city, we change the atmosphere. A forest separates Les Ulis from Orsay, the third town in the district. Rue de General de Gaulle, sausages are grilling and a nightingale sings in a small sloping courtyard, where Paul Midy has chosen to nest his campaign headquarters. This evening, Christophe Castaner came in person to launch the campaign of the current director general of En Marche. At almost 40 years old, the candidate of La République en Marche wants to move from shadow to light. His CV ticks all the boxes for macronie: a graduate of Polytechnique and Columbia University, he founded his IT company in the 2000s, which “supports three people for ten years”. Then come seven years of consulting at McKinsey, then a stint in online commerce, first at Jumia, a French unicorn present on the African market, and at Frichti, a specialist in home shopping delivery.
“Being an MP is a long-time goal”, assures the candidate who was in the past a member of the Young Pop’, the youth branch of the UMP. Even before the unveiling of the investitures of the presidential coalition, Paul Midy confides that he had “indications but no certainty” on being chosen to wear the colors of the outgoing majority in this constituency which voted 36% for Emmanuel Macron in the first round, his best score in Essonne. He took the opportunity to meet the local executives of LaREM from the end of April. “I recovered traumatized activists” by the change of camp of Cédric Villani, he testifies.
The Parisian adventure, like the move to the left of its main competitor, has left its mark: “Cédric was a bit like our rock star”, remembers Françoise, 66 years old. This retiree, an activist from the start, nevertheless adopts her new champion without regret. “Paul is less well known, but there’s also skull juice behind his glasses.” The subject is still sensitive for Oly, 50 years old and local referent in Ulis. He speaks with emotion of the “treason” of his deputy, before rectifying: “No, write ‘turnaround’ instead, because Cédric remains a friend.”
It is finally Christophe Castaner who is responsible for putting words to the general feeling: “Seeing Cédric leave for Mélenchon hurts me!”, he asserts at the microphone in front of an audience of sympathizers. For the president of the deputies of La République on the march in the National Assembly, the scientist is misguided in an individual adventure: “Politics is not personal onanism, it is first and foremost a collective commitment.” And to drive the point home in front of an audience committed to the cause: “Giving in to demagoguery is always easier. It’s the difference between them and us, it’s the difference between Paul and Cedric.”
For “put the constituency back in the presidential fold”Paul Midy campaigns on emancipation and ecology.
Here, it is a territory of all possibilities. It was for me, I want it to be for everyone. Paul Midy
The Paris-Saclay campus, which extends throughout the northern part of the territory, is a world-class university center, where public and private research flourish. But where agricultural and forestry land still available is threatened by high-speed development: “I will be the deputy who will preserve the good balance between our agricultural land and the development of the Saclay plateau”, promises Paul Midy. Cédric Villani has taken a further step towards the defense of nature: he went to “Zaclay”, the local ZAD (zone to defend) which fights against any extension of bitumen in the region.
But the title of first elected environmentalist in the area is also claimed by the mayor of Gif-sur-Yvette, Michel Bournat. Aedile since 2001 of the very pretty town, the elected Les Républicains agreed to defend the colors of his party, at the request of the national authorities. He forms a ticket with François-Guy Trebubble, the mayor of Verrières-le-Buisson, also LR. Support of Valérie Pécresse, he prefers to forget the score of the presidential candidate and recall the one she did at the regional level in her town (45%). “Each election has its own logic: my goal is to be in the second round“, says Michel Bournat. A figure in local political life, he believes that all his opponents are in skydiving course. “Paul Midy says he studied in the district, but that’s not true. Polytechnique is in the sixth of Essonne, in Palaiseau”, he complains. The walker also takes great care to specify that he is now… Gifois.
Author of “Gif-sur-Yvette, 20 years of daily ecology”the mayor-candidate said to himself “ecologist, but not green”. The candidate’s team recounts its successes also made possible by its management, until 2020, of the Paris-Saclay agglomeration: the protection of woods and agricultural land, an urban geothermal heating network, the “first air-climate plan” closed in Île-de-France… His first deputy, who crisscrosses the Gif market with the other elected officials of the municipal council to spread the word, adds a final trophy to the table: the return of two species of rare birds to the common, the crested kinglet and the garden warbler.
The first city councilor is proud of his green city, where no building exceeds four floors. “When you look up, you only see the foliage. It’s a rule introduced by my predecessor that I kept. And we managed to impose a limit of 25 m for constructions on the Saclay plateau”, he welcomes. Michel Bournat, who has never experienced electoral failure, does he really see himself leaving his local action for a national mandate? “My decision is not made yet”, he confesses, also a sign that the game promises to be very complicated for the right.
Probable duel, uncertain outcome
Left, right or presidential majority, who will win the constituency on the evening of the second round, June 19? The National Rally, almost non-existent locally, will hardly play the spoilsports. Do we not say that the winning territories of globalization first vote Emmanuel Macron? “Even those who are well are overwhelmed with great discomfort, just read the IPCC reports”, objects Cédric Villani. The outgoing, elected with almost 70% of the vote in 2017, had achieved one of the very best scores of the candidates of La République en Marche. “I am not here to repeat an achievement, I am here to be elected.”
But during legislative elections, the constituency has often followed the results of the presidential election: In 2007, when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected to the Élysée, it sent a right-wing deputy to the National Assembly. Five years later after the election of François Hollande, a member of the left. As a good connoisseur of the territory, Michel Bournat nevertheless recalls that, with the exception of 2017, the scores were often very tight: “It’s played at 48-52 here”. On the side of Paul Midy, we apply recipes that have always smiled on him: “I’m a hard worker. A company is first and foremost a collective success and I’ve always tried to recruit better people than me.” After a first tow for the left in Ulis, a former Macronist activist who went to Nupes reports that a voter wondered: “Who is this top of the class?”