JR hears from Mexico’s first president to be a woman – and Jewish — Jewish Renaissance

Sheinbaum never considered a political career until López Obrador made her his environment secretary when he was mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005. At the time she was married to a middle-level political leader whom she had met through student politics in the 80s. From then on Sheinbaum’s dedication to the projects López Obrador gave her to oversee turned her into one of his most trusted associates.

She was his spokesperson during his first shot at the presidency in 2006 and accompanied him throughout the wilderness years that followed as well as his failed attempt to win the presidency in 2012. She was there again as he built a new political party – the Movement of National Regeneration (MORENA) – that would finally secure him victory this year.

When he assured her the candidacy for the capital’s mayor, she ran her campaign largely around the pledge to return the capital to the path that he had traced when he was mayor.

Not that López Obrador always makes it easy for Mexico City progressives like Sheinbaum. His quiet but obvious social conservatism became increasingly difficult to ignore when he formed an alliance for the 2018 election with a tiny political party with roots in evangelical churches and leaders who abhor abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

This led some of López Obrador’s inner circle to stage a protest against the alliance. He responded by promising not to roll back rights already established, and affirmed that his movement is inclusive of people from all religions and “free thinkers”.

It was typical of the way Lopez Obrador handles conflicts among his followers. If they turn it into a big enough problem, he issues a statement promising things will be okay, draws a line under it, and moves on.

That was how he handled a row within his party in 2012 about antisemitism, masquerading as anti-Zionism, similar to the issues facing the Labour Party in the UK. On that occasion Sheinbaum reportedly insisted he curb the aggressive tweets of his adviser. He did so, and the controversy faded.

Can Mayor Sheinbaum emerge from López Obrador’s shadow? That question is particularly relevant given that the position is almost automatically associated with future presidential ambitions. Is Sheinbaum thinking about the next presidential elections in 2024? “Not for now,” she recently told El Financiero. “I don’t think we should be talking about this now. I am focused on the city.”

By Jo Tuckman

Photos © Maritza Ríos / Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México

Jo Tuckman was a journalist based in Mexico and author of Mexico: Democracy Interrupted (Yale University Press, 2012). She died in Mexico in 2020.

This article appears in the October 2018 issue of JR.

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