Home News What You Need to Know About Mexico’s New President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum

What You Need to Know About Mexico’s New President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum


Claudia Sheinbaum’s accolades are many: She has a doctorate in energy engineering, served on a United Nations panel of climate scientists, won a Nobel Peace Prize, and has run one of the largest cities in the Western Hemisphere, the capital.

On Sunday, she added another achievement to her resume: becoming the first female elected president of Mexico.

Sheinbaum, 61, received at least 58 percent of the vote in a landmark election on Sunday that pitted two women against each other for the country’s highest office — a groundbreaking race in a country long known for its culture of machismo and rampant violence against women.

Now that she has secured the presidency, Sheinbaum’s next hurdle is stepping out of the shadow of her predecessor and longtime mentor, outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

She and López Obrador are “different people,” she said in an interview. He is an oil tycoon who has invested in environmentally questionable projects; she is a climate scientist. Yet Sheinbaum has appealed to voters largely by promising to cement his legacy, backing his big bet on the state oil company and constitutional reforms that critics consider anti-democratic.

Their alliance has also left many Mexicans wondering: Can Ms. Sheinbaum be her own leader, or is she just his pawn?

“A lot of columnists say people think I have no personality,” Ms. Sheinbaum said. complain “President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told me what to do,” he told reporters earlier this year.

She insists she will govern independently of Mr. López Obrador and that she has some different priorities. But straying too far from his agenda could be very dangerous.

Here are five things to know about Mexico’s new president-elect that could help you decide whether she will stray from López Obrador’s policies or work to cement his legacy.

Ms. Sheinbaum, a former ballet dancer, describes herself as “persistent” and “disciplined.” But analysts say that discipline may not be enough.

As president, she has inherited a troubling list of problems. The state oil company is deeply in debt, internal migration is at an all-time high and cartel violence continues to plague the country.

She said she would continue López Obrador’s policy of addressing the drivers of violence rather than waging war on criminal groups, but would also work to reduce impunity rates and strengthen the National Guard.

With the U.S. presidential election just months away, she told The New York Times she would work with whichever candidate wins, and publicly she has echoed López Obrador’s emphasis on addressing the root causes of immigration.

In a recent debate, she hinted that some changes might be coming, saying she would seek reformsThe country’s immigration authoritiesan institution often accused of corruption.

The Times spoke with more than 20 people who worked with or knew Ms. Sheinbaum and attended her campaign events, reviewed her writings and media appearances and interviewed her twice in 2020 and this year.

What is clear is that Ms. Sheinbaum (pronounced SHANE-balm) has long seemed more interested in quietly getting things done than in promoting herself or her accomplishments.

Colleagues say she is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants who fled Europe and rarely talks about being Jewish or almost anything about her personal life. When an interviewer asked her about her shared Nobel Prize with a team of climate researchers, she mentioned how many people were involved in the work.

She was known as a hot-tempered, demanding boss who was both feared and adored by her employees, though in public she was so controlled that she bordered on apathy.

Some say her professorial demeanor could pose a challenge to a political landscape defined by López Obrador, who has built his party into a powerhouse on his own personal strength.

“She needs him,” said Carlos Heredia, a Mexican political analyst. “She has no charisma, no popularity and no political stamina, so she needs to borrow from López Obrador.”

Yet, for some Mexicans, a non-stimulating woman may be an ideal antidote to the misery of the entertaining men who have plunged the country into partisan chaos.

The candidate’s political career began when López Obrador was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2000, and he invited her to a restaurant. She recalled López Obrador telling her: “I want to reduce pollution. Do you know how?”

She agreed. She became his environment secretary. In meetings, she seemed willing to do almost anything to keep her boss happy, according to several people who worked with her.

“The phrase she uses over and over is ‘the mayor says,’ ” said Mr. Heredia, who worked with her in city governments under Mr. López Obrador. Mr. Heredia interprets that to mean: “We are not a cabinet that comes up with ideas,” he said. “We are a group of people who are here to implement his decisions.”

In the years that followed, Sheinbaum moved between academia and politics, but she always stayed close to López Obrador. In 2014, when López Obrador founded the More Party, he asked her to run for mayor of the Mexican city of Tlalpan. With his support, she won.

In 2018, when López Obrador was elected president in a landslide, Sheinbaum became mayor of Mexico City. She quickly developed a reputation as a tough boss.

“People don’t go to her meetings and tell her, ‘I’m working on it,’ ” said Soledad Aragón, a former member of Ms. Sheinbaum’s cabinet. Ms. Aragón said that when she walks into the room, everyone sits up straight.

Ms. Aragon said that as mayor she was able to remember specific numbers mentioned weeks after the meeting and praised her for being “brilliant” and “demanding,” especially on herself, adding: “It has paid off.”

Five officials who worked with Mr. Scheinbaum but were not authorized to speak publicly said he sometimes flew into a rage and yelled at subordinates in public. Through a spokesman, Mr. Scheinbaum declined to comment on the allegation.

Her defenders say some people simply react badly to a woman in power.

“I know in her administration, sometimes people get offended or upset by her yelling,” said Marta Lamas, a longtime feminist activist who is close to Sheinbaum and her team. “But if it’s a man yelling, then it’s not a problem because culturally it’s different.”

“People will say, in a critical tone: ‘She’s strong,’ ” Ms. Aragon said. “What do you want, a weak person running the city?”

Sheinbaum has spent years trying to explain how she could be in lockstep with López Obrador and still be herself. The answer, she says, is simple: She truly believes in him.

In 2022, a radio host asked her a pointed question from a female listener: “Why don’t you choose to be a woman who governs the country with your own ideas? Why don’t you leave the circus of AMLO?” she asked, using López Obrador’s nickname. “Why use the same rhetoric and the same words?”

Ms. Sheinbaum did not hesitate.

“If you think the same way as someone else, it doesn’t mean you’re copying them; you’re just identifying with them,” she said. “You can’t deny your beliefs.”

Emiliano Rodriguez Mejia Contributed reporting.

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