Strauss-Kahn returns to France but not politics
The last time he boarded a flight for Paris, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was on the verge of announcing his candidacy for president, and in some quarters his victory was considered certain.
Four months after being dragged off that plane in New York to answer accusations that he attempted to rape a hotel chambermaid, the former IMF chief arrived in Paris on Sunday to a gaggle of reporters that would be the envy of any politician on the campaign trail.
But a poll and analysts indicate that his politicking days are over. At least, for now.
Strauss-Kahn touched down Sunday just over a week after New York prosecutors dropped the charges — including attempted rape, sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment — because of concerns about the maid's credibility. He was met with a mixed welcome.
Friends and allies in the Socialist Party expressed relief that he was home a free man, and a supporter serenaded him with a bit of Verdi.
But members of his own party who are currently competing in a presidential primary have begun distancing themselves, and French voters appear to want a break from the man so famous he's often known only by his initials DSK.
"I don't think he will come back on the political scene," said Bichi Attal, a resident of Sarcelles, the working class suburb of Paris where Strauss-Kahn used to be mayor. "If I were in his shoes, I would stop politics and take care of my wife because he has a great wife."
Jean-Daniel Levy, a pollster and political analyst, said that while French people were still interested in the man as gossip, they'd lost interest in the politician.
"We're already in a period where the French aren't talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn any more," he said. "There's no waiting" for him to make a big announcement.
And what's more important, Levy said, there seemed to be no void in French politics either: "From one day to the next, the French leaned more toward (Socialist presidential hopeful) Francois Hollande than Dominique Strauss-Kahn."
According to a BVA poll taken August 23 and 24 — in the hours after the charges were dropped — 56 percent of respondents said they wouldn't want to see Strauss-Kahn in a Socialist government if the party wins.
The poll interviewed 1,026 people, selected by telephone. It gave no margin of error.
Yet his return was discussed for days on French news channels and the event itself was recorded every step of the way, from the send-off at New York's JFK airport, to the landing at Paris' Charles de Gaulle, to the arrival at his apartment on the tony Place des Vosges.
He waved silently and smiled at reporters along the way, as did his wife, respected former TV personality Anne Sinclair. When they finally reached their home, the crush of reporters was so thick, Strauss-Kahn had trouble reaching the front door.
The images of the two casually dressed and at ease provided a kind of bookend to the affair that began for much of the world with photographs of Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs being led out of a New York City police station in May.
The charges cost him his job at the helm of the International Monetary Fund, saw him jailed for a week and then kept under house arrest.
It also sparked some soul-searching in France, where his reputation as a "great seducer" was widely known and tolerated.
Many called for more openness about questionable private behavior that might reflect on a politician's public life, though there has been little evidence of an actual shift. No extra scrutiny has been directed at Socialist candidates, for instance.
With the US criminal charges dropped, Strauss-Kahn begins another phase, that of rehabilitating his image and finding a new path. His communication team said he wouldn't speak Sunday, but he is expected to eventually make a statement and perhaps give interviews.
Laurent Giaou, another resident of Sarcelles, said the French were owed an explanation.
"With all the hope the French people had in him until May, I think the least he could do is explain himself, go on television and tell his truth," said Giaou. "That's what we are all waiting for."
Strauss-Kahn still faces a lawsuit filed by Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo, who says he forced her to perform oral sex and tried to rape her when she came to clean his hotel room. Through lawyers, he has acknowledged that a sexual encounter took place but contended that it was consensual.
He also faces another investigation in France based on accusations by French novelist Tristane Banon, who says he tried to rape her during an interview in 2003. He calls the claim "imaginary."
The AP does not name people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified or come forward publicly, as Diallo and Banon have done.
Despite the continuing cases, there was an air of triumph at Strauss-Kahn's return on Sunday — and particular praise for his wife.
Alice Ohayon, another Sarcelles resident, said she was "more than pleased" at his arrival.
"I take my hat off to his wife," she said. "You see, even Hillary Clinton, after what happened with her husband, can't compete with what Anne Sinclair did."
And while most pooh-poohed a political return, some allies could be seen planting the seed of a comeback for the man who was widely praised for his management of the IMF and its role in the European debt crisis — however far off in the future.
"France in the face of this economic crisis needs his talent and this unthinkable test will have matured him," said Socialist legislator Jean-Christophe Cambadelis on his blog on Sunday. "The time for reconstruction, undoubtedly lengthy, is beginning. This return is the first step."