Death of Jean-Claude Gaudin, the last baron of Marseille

Death of Jean-Claude Gaudin, the last baron of Marseille
Death of Jean-Claude Gaudin, the last baron of Marseille

Gaudin is dead. It had already been several years since the former mayor of Marseille (from 1995 to 2020), despite all his experience, no longer had any influence either in his city or in public life in general. A political monument that is rarely made anymore, Jean-Claude Gaudin died this Monday in his home in Var, at the age of 84, as Emmanuel Macron announced on X.

At the twilight of his career, the man, so often dressed in his dark blue pinstriped suit, liked to mischievously describe himself as a “dinosaur”. A flattery for himself: exaltation of the thick leather of one who has worked his way up and of a longevity in business that would make many pale.

Born in 1939, the son of Mazargues, a popular district of the Marseille city, had started early. He was 25 years old when, in 1965, he was elected municipal councilor of Marseille for the first time, following in the footsteps of the giant of the time, Gaston Defferre. The young Gaudin continued to work as a professor of history and geography in the private sector for around fifteen years, but it was through politics that he really sought to embrace the annals.

At the age of 39, he entered the National Assembly, draped in a new tricolor scarf. Then, pell-mell, the mason’s son becomes general councilor then boss of the region, mayor of the 4th sector of his city, begins a choppy career as senator with which he only breaks in 2017.

“He was someone who rounded the corners, an arranger”

The law on the accumulation of mandates then requires him to choose between the Palais du Luxembourg, of which he became vice-president, and his chair as mayor of Marseille, with a view of the Bonne Mère. The question didn’t really arise. Under Jacques Chirac, he was also a short-lived Minister of Regional Planning (1995-1997). Like Gaston. Coming from the UDF, he took part in the founding of the UMP in 2002 and became one of its vice-presidents.

What to get out of it? “He was a very political senator, not a technician, someone who rounded the corners, an arranger,” recalls his colleague, Senator LR from Hauts de Seine, Roger Karoutchi. A mad politician, courteous and never shy of a good word. The Senate rose unanimously to applaud him during the last session over which he had chaired, bringing unprecedented tears to this man known for being modest and secretive.

“A pure opportunist,” said Patrick Mennucci, a socialist figure from Marseille, one day. Hadn’t Gaudin made a pact with the National Front to take the region in 1986? “A technical agreement,” the person concerned always brushed aside, generally not liking this reminder of the facts.

In Marseille, Jean-Claude Gaudin had several runners-up, from the eternal Renaud Muselier to Bruno Gilles and Martine Vassal. None have been able to succeed him; some will say that he worked hard to make them fail.

“I didn’t do everything well, I know, but I put my heart into it”

Passionate about history, he was always extremely concerned about the mark he would leave in the collective memory. A worry that became an obsession when handing over the reins of “one’s” city. The tragedy of the rue d’Aubagne in November 2018, the collapse of these dilapidated buildings which left eight dead, will serve as an indelible stain on its record. A black cloud which will escort him to the end in the form of nightmares, even after his departure from politics.

“I didn’t do everything well, I know, but I put my heart into it,” he told us in his gravelly voice, at the end of the race, always letting his memory anguish show: “I would like the They say I was a good mayor. »

In his second house in Saint-Zacharie (Var), he then retreated to give his own version of the facts (“Now I’m going to tell you everything…”, 2021): a partial will with the aim of rehabilitating, above all , twenty-five years spent in the service of the Marseillais.

“My life has been politics,” he told us again. And now Gaudin is dead. He leaves behind him no other heir than Marseille, who will remember this character with his very pagan style. A piece of its history.

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