Benjamin Griveaux, French President Emmanuel Macron’s choice for Paris mayor in next month’s local elections, has withdrawn as a candidate after an explicit video and some of his private messages appeared online.
The sudden withdrawal of Mr Griveaux, who gave up his job as government spokesman to stand as mayor of the French capital, is another blow for Mr Macron and his governing La République en Marche (LREM) party as it prepares for nationwide municipal elections.
In an emotional press conference on Friday, Mr Griveaux, who had been running third in the opinion polls, called the attacks against him “dishonourable”.
“I do not want myself or my family exposed any longer when all the low blows are permitted. Parisians deserve a dignified campaign,” he said.
“For more than a year, my family and I have suffered defamatory statements, lies, rumours, anonymous attacks, the revelation of stolen private conversations as well as death threats,” he said. “This torrent of mud has affected me and above all harmed those I love.”
Mr Griveaux did not comment on the authenticity of the video material or messages distributed on social media.
The fall of Mr Griveaux will complicate matters for Mr Macron’s party, which was already struggling to win the Paris mayoralty from incumbent Socialist Anne Hidalgo because of divisions in its camp.
Cédric Villani, a flamboyant mathematician and former member of parliament for LREM, had already defied Mr Macron and launched his own campaign after losing the party nomination to Mr Griveaux, and was then expelled from the party.
Mr Griveaux’s spokesperson said his campaign would shortly name a new person to replace him as LREM’s candidate for the mayor’s job.
A recent opinion poll showed the incumbent Ms Hidalgo to be the favourite among Paris voters, followed by Rachida Dati, a centre-right politician who was justice minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Mr Villani was in fifth place but could now gain support from liberals who abandon the official LREM candidate following Mr Griveaux’s downfall. He expressed “full and complete” support for his fallen rival on Friday, writing on Twitter: “The dishonourable attack he has suffered is a serious threat to our democracy.”
Piotr Pavlenski, a controversial Russian artist who won political asylum in France and has supported the anti-government gilets jaunes movement, claimed responsibility for publishing the video online and told the newspaper Libération that he had wanted to “denounce hypocrisy” about family values.
He said he had received the video from a source who had a consensual relationship with Mr Griveaux. Last year, Mr Pavlenski was sentenced to jail for setting fire to an entrance of the Banque de France, the central bank, in what he said was a work of performance art.