Born in Tunisia, Delanoë moved to France with his family when he was a teenager. He has been involved in politics since the age of 23 as the secretary of the Socialist federation in Aveyron. He was first elected to the Paris city council in 1977. In 1993, he became the head of the city's Socialist Party. In 1995, he was elected to the Senate, where he was secretary of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense.
Delanoë has been the mayor of Paris since March 18, 2001, following Jacques Chirac's quarter-century mayorship, and Jean Tiberi. The left-wing alliance was back at the head of the city council for the first time since the 1871 Paris Commune. He is now focusing on political openness and fiscal responsibility.
Delanoë is also very famous for being the first major French politician to announce that he was gay, during a 1999 television interview (before being elected mayor). While not taking an active part in the gay and lesbian community, Delanoë wants to make a difference, especially in ending discrimination in municipal subsidies to civic groups.
Delanoë won Paris' mayorship over the right-wing candidates Jean Tibťri and Philippe Séguin, who were unable to solve their differences, and with the help of the French Green Party. Since becoming mayor, his goals have been to improve the quality of life, reduce pollution, and cut down on traffic jams within the city (including a plan for a non-polluting tramway to ease Parisian traffic) and pedestrian malls.
Delanoë was virtually unknown before the election; he has since then has become a rather popular mayor, organising new and unusual events in Paris, such as giant beach for picnics on the banks of the Seine River in summer 2002.
He was stabbed on October 5, 2002 during the Nuits Blanches event, a night of festivities in Paris.
His assailant, Azedine Berkane, was reported to have told police that "he did not like politicians and in particular did not like homosexuals".
Delanoë's wound was reported not to be life-threatening and he left the hospital after about two weeks.