When Dora Bakoyianni won a landslide election last October to become the first woman mayor of Athens, she had no illusions about just how difficult it was going to be. Athens' overcrowding, urban sprawl, and pollution -- it's home to almost 40% of the Greek population -- make it one of Europe's most chaotic capitals. And Bakoyianni also would have to contend with frantic efforts to spruce things up in advance of the 2004 Olympics.
But Bakoyianni, 49, wasn't counting on the job also being dangerous. In mid-December, a few days before she was sworn in, a gunman fired point-blank at Bakoyianni's Saab when the car stopped at a light near the headquarters of her center-right New Democracy Party. Miraculously, Bakoyianni was reaching down for her purse at that very moment, a piece of luck that saved her life. It was an all-too-grim reminder of Bakoyianni's start in politics. In 1989, her husband Pavlos, a conservative politician, was slain in a terror attack. She took over his parliamentary seat and later served as Greece's Culture Minister in the 1990-93 government of her father, Constantine Mitsotakis.
Being the daughter and widow of important politicians has given Bakoyianni a clear advantage in breaking into the male-dominated world of Greek politics. But she has also been helped by her energy, intellect, and striking good looks. Polls already indicate she's Greece's most popular center-right politician.
In office less than six months, Bakoyianni has wasted no time setting a new direction for Athens. She has pushed a plan to remove many advertisements and roof antennas from historic buildings and has budgeted for a major pedestrian zone linking the city's extensive archeological sites. But her plans are not only aesthetic. Her rehabilitation scheme also includes revamping the city police force and solving a chronic parking problem by building new underground garages.
Most of all, she wants to make sure Athens is as welcoming and as beautiful as it can be for next year's Olympics. And she says the Games should be seen "not as an end, but as the beginning of a maturing and aesthetically upgraded Athens." If it all works out, it could also be the beginning of a new, more important phase in her political career.