By Stefan Simons in Paris
The news that charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dropped in New York on Tuesday has been greeted by France's Socialist Party in Paris' Rue Solferino with a sigh of relief. Only three days before the summer meeting of Socialists in La Rochelle, the rumors, suspicions and accusations against Strauss-Kahn and his alleged rape of Nafissatou Diallo, a housekeeper at New York's Sofitel, will come to an end for the time being. Just two months before the Socialists will hold their primary election ahead of French presidential elections in 2012, they can finally put an end to the endless American drama surrounding their fellow party member.
As indications mounted on Monday that the New York court would drop charges, relief among party leaders was palpable. "I am very pleased about the latest developments with the New York District Attorney's Office," Martine Aubry, who leads the Socialists and hopes to represent her party as its presidential candidate, said. "I am thinking with great sympathy about Dominique and his wife Anne Sinclair."
Aubry's main rival in the party, Francois Hollande, also expressed similar delight over the outcome of the affair "after three months of unbearable burdens." Hollande, who himself was once the head of the Socialist Party, added that the events had been extremely difficult to bear.
It wasn't exclusively the private problems of the former head of the International Monetary Fund that had become so troublesome. Newspapers and TV stations seemed to rejoice in reporting in detail on Straus-Kahn's allegedly excessive lifestyle, the story of his marriage and his flamboyant missteps. At the same time, it also created a serious predicament for the reputation of France's most important opposition party. "The drama, the power of the images, the incarceration, the accusations in the American and parts of the French press against him and those who were alleged to be familiar or complicit -- that is now ending," said Manuel Valls, a friend of Strauss-Kahn and also a candidate for the Socialist Party presidential nomination.
A Burden for His Party?
Nevertheless, Strauss-Kahn's reputation has been seriously tarnished, and his prospects for returning to politics appear to be virtually nil. Even the most die-hard fans of the former IMF chief no longer believe he can participate in the Socialist Party primary elections. Still, the economics professor, who only months ago was considered to be President Nicolas Sarkozy's most dangerous challenger, could nonetheless exercise his influence by endorsing one of the five candidates. Aubry, who was once aligned politically with Strauss-Kahn, would likely be given his blessing.
"He has certain abilities, experience at the helm of the IMF and earlier as economics minister," said Hollande. "He could be useful to his country in the months and years to come."
It could also turn out, however, that Strauss-Kahn turns out to be a burden for his party's candidates going into the election. Beyond the likely legal exoneration in the United States, Strauss-Kahn's public image remains one of a testosterone-driven womanizer, a notorious groper -- and he would remain a vulnerable target during the election.
'Leave Him Alone for Now'
And when he does finally return to France, the next court case will already be awaiting him. Author Tristane Banon, 32, claims that during an interview she conducted with Strauss-Kahn in 2003 for a book she was researching, that he sexually harassed and raped her. At the time, she says her mother advised her to keep quiet. Banon, though, has since filed charges and the Paris public prosecutor's office has already questioned the author's mother, Straus-Kahn's ex-wife and Hollande, who at the time was the head of the Socialist Party.
So even as Socialist Party leaders give public assurances of their sympathy and solidarity with Strauss-Kahn, they also have plenty of reason to keep a cautious distance when it comes to the unwieldy party member's political future. "Let's leave him alone for now," prominent Socialist Party member Pierre Moscovici, said of his former mentor Strauss-Kahn. "When he is ready to take his place in the public discussion again, it should be with a voice that is useful to the left and the country in the current crisis. But first given him the time and freedom he needs to make decisions that he considers to be useful."
Moscovici, in any case, found it best to change political camps. The politician from the party's left recently switched camps. A former Strauss-Kahn supporter, he is now the coordinator of Hollande's pre-election campaign.
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