“Don’t think because you see this skinny scientist up here that we won’t be strong enough to take on the subject of crime fighting,” Claudia Sheinbaum told a group of supporters at a Mexico City park during her campaign to become the city’s mayor earlier this year.
The 56-year-old ended up winning the July election to lead North America’s largest city, chalking up two firsts in the process. When she takes office in December, Sheinbaum will be Mexico City’s first woman mayor, a milestone for a society with a sordid history of gender inequality and violence against women.
The other first is Mexico City getting its first Jewish mayor. During a speech to a Jewish audience during the campaign, Sheinbaum said that she connected with the city’s 40,000-strong Jewish community through her grandparents, who immigrated to Mexico from Lithuania and Bulgaria.
“We celebrated all the Jewish holidays at my grandparents’ house,” she said.
An environmental engineer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico until recently, Sheinbaum is aligned with left-wing Mexican presidential-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. She 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 National Regeneration Movement (Morena) Party when he formally launched it in 2014.
The following year, she won the race to become district mayor of Mexico City’s Tlalpan neighborhood, Lopez Obrador’s own district in Mexico’s capital of more than nine million people.
Sheinbaum became embroiled in a controversy last September following a major earthquake in Tlalpan in which an elementary school collapsed, killing 19 children and seven adults. It later emerged that the building had been expanded illegally and unsafely and families of the victims called for Sheinbaum to be investigated.
The storm didn’t dissuade voters, however, as she won the mayoral elections in a landslide. Although being elected to govern one of the world’s largest cities is an achievement by itself, it may not be the pinnacle for Sheinbaum. Her lofty position is considered to be a stepping stone to the presidency.