PARIS — Even after Fox News apologized for broadcasting false claimsthat Paris was blighted by dangerous Muslim-ruled “no-go zones,” the mayor of Paris could barely conceal her indignation.
“The spreading of such lies seriously damaged the honor and image of Parisians and Paris,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, said in an interview. She said that Paris, still deeply shaken by the recent terrorist attacks, would not tolerate words that “sully” liberty.
City Hall aides said Thursday that Ms. Hidalgo planned to file a defamation complaint against Fox News at a Paris court this week, once she received approval from the Paris Council. Some interpreted the legal action as an empty gesture calculated to raise her profile since, at least in the United States, such a complaint is unlikely to go far, given First Amendment protections.
But her response, observers say, reflects the new swagger of a sometimes hesitant and soft-spoken but ambitious politician who, after being elected mayor in March, has been pushed into the spotlight by one of the country’s bloodiest terrorist attacks in recent memory.
“She has not changed her personality,” said Marie-Ève Malouines, a political columnist for the France Info radio station, who wrote a book about the mayoral race between Ms. Hidalgo and her opponent, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, last year. “But people might look at her differently now.”
Indeed, after the attacks last month in and near Paris during a three-day siege that left 17 people dead, including at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, Ms. Hidalgo, 55, a former labor inspector, found herself cast in a new and unfamiliar role as comforter in chief to a traumatized city.
When Secretary of State John Kerry showed up — a little too late for some Parisians — to offer a “hug” of support on behalf of the United States, Ms. Hidalgo welcomed him to Paris’s opulent City Hall and held the microphone while the American singer James Taylor crooned, “You’ve got a friend.”
Days later, when Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York came to offer condolences, Ms. Hidalgo, a fellow leftist with whom he has become close, invoked the resilient spirit of New Yorkers after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. She said Paris, too, would not be cowed by terrorists, but added that Parisians would never live quite the same way again.
After years in City Hall as deputy to the former mayor Bertrand Delanoë, Ms. Hidalgo, Paris’s first female mayor, has emerged as one of France’s more resilient party politicians. She was a rare survivor in municipal elections last March during which the left was trounced.
Some, however, complain that she is less charismatic than her predecessor and is still growing into her role as leader of one of the world’s most glittering cities. In an article before her election, Le Monde called her “the soft Mrs. Hidalgo.” “We haven’t heard her in years,” the article said.
Aides reject that criticism, saying that the news media enjoys casting female leaders as either weak or hysterical. “If you provoke her, rest assured she will respond,” said Hervé Marro, a communications adviser who has worked with the mayor for years.
The daughter of a Spanish electrician who fled Franco’s Spain in the 1960s, Ms. Hidalgo is also among a small minority of children of immigrants who have succeeded in a system dominated by French-born white male elites. Her status as an outsider could prove useful at a time when the terrorist attacks have inspired a debate about the challenges of integrating immigrants, and Muslims in particular.
“The value of individual merit, the possibility of building a destiny for oneself, it is something that is anchored in the imagination and symbols of America,” she said. “Here, that doesn’t work in the same way. There are a few exceptions who integrate successfully, and I am one, but they are not mainstream.”
People who have worked with her say she is indefatigable, arriving at City Hall by 8 a.m. in her electric Renault car. To unwind, she watches American series like “Homeland,” though not since the attacks, her aides said.
As the deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, Ms. Hidalgo was the behind-the-scenes enabler of some of City Hall’s most significant innovations, such as the transformation of the Seine banks into promenades and a city renewal effort that included creating several new neighborhoods.
“For 13 years, she played the No. 2 role,” Mr. Delanoë said. “But she’s always been rather strong-willed and ambitious.”
Born in Spain in 1959, Ms. Hidalgo was raised with her sister in La Duchère, a poor suburb of Lyon. She became a French citizen at 14, studied law and began working as a labor inspector at 23, putting on a hard hat and going deep underground to document mine workers’ conditions.
She said she was sometimes overlooked by her teachers. “Nothing was given to me,” she said.
During her campaign, Ms. Hidalgo pledged to beef up the capital’s security, reduce poverty and expand green areas. She has also insisted that at least one child be involved in evaluating public projects, and aides say the idea for a floating garden on the Seine that was constructed in 2013 came from an 8-year-old who drew it with crayons, winning Ms. Hidalgo attention when she was deputy mayor.
She has been bold in some areas, including unveiling plans to ban high-polluting diesel and other vehicles from the center of Paris by 2020. And at a time when cities like New York, London and Paris have gained reputations as unaffordable to all but the very rich, her administration has started an effort to protect affordable housing in some of the city’s most elite areas.
But some critics say that her actions have been incremental and that she lacks public heft. She has also been called a champagne socialist for policies like the diesel ban that critics say will mostly benefit elites who can afford fuel-efficient cars, even as she has framed it as a public health imperative.
With an annual budget of about eight billion euros, or $9 billion, and more than 50,000 employees, the mayor of Paris has one of the most prestigious jobs in France’s political hierarchy. (Under French protocol, foreign presidents who come to Paris on a state visit must stop by the mayor’s imposing office, the largest in France.) But her powers are circumscribed compared with those of the mayor of New York, as security is under the authority of the police prefect, which is controlled by the Interior Ministry.
Ms. Hidalgo is married to a Socialist member of Parliament, Jean–Marc Germain, with whom she has a 12-year-old son. She also has two children, both in their 20s, from a previous marriage.
A photograph in Paris Match in 2013 showed Ms. Hidalgo, then a candidate, and Mr. Germain clasped in each other’s arms in their cozy Paris apartment, with both looking at the camera, visibly embarrassed. “Political marketing kills politics,” she said, lamenting its contrived nature. “It kills the relationship with the voters.”
Ms. Hidalgo calls herself a feminist, humanist, environmentalist and “woman of the left.” One of the chapters of her 2013 book, “Mon Combat Pour Paris,” or “My Fight for Paris,” is called “The End of the Dominant Political Male.” “We women often emerge in politics by accident, with off-the-beaten-track itineraries,” she wrote.
In 2002, Ms. Hidalgo was acting mayor for more than a month after Mr. Delanoë, an openly gay politician, was stabbed in the abdomen by a disturbed man who claimed that he hated politicians and homosexuals.
Ms. Hidalgo said the experience was her political baptism, and one she did not necessarily enjoy or excel at.
“I understood that there were initiation rites and that I needed to get over them because politics aren’t an easy thing, and I had to keep my feelings to myself,” she said. “I had to consider all this as a training to strengthen myself.”
Then, she added with a discreet smile, “I no longer have any doubts.”