Despite her foreign-sounding name and imposing titles of vice-president of Luxembourg, minister of foreign affairs, justice, and the economy, Colette Flesch seems quite content to sit around her suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and laugh about her days as an Olympic fencer.
''I was always eliminated in the first round,'' she recalls with a chuckle. And the observer is thankfully at ease with this woman who apparently knows how to lose gracefully.
But in the very next moment, Miss Flesch - adorned with a no-nonsense haircut and crisp linen suit - is suddenly the eloquent stateswoman, speaking with terrifying intelligence and a continental accent about European political infrastructures. ''What makes you think that because America swung right, Europe has swung left? Don't oversimplify because of the situation in France.'' And the observer sits up a little straighter in her chair.
Miss Flesch, with her forthright and self-confident air, swings easily from charming, multilingual conversationalist to a more detached, professorial posture. She is the kind of woman who would be comfortable sitting at one end of the dining-room table, holding forth with the more adult -members on such imposing topics as the European Community's agricultural policies, while you wrangle with your siblings at the other end. One feels she is not easily impressed with petty, partisan views.
Quite possibly it is Miss Flesch's deep commitment to a unified Europe that makes her seem above merely nationalistic motives. For not only is Miss Flesch the first woman vice-president of Luxembourg and the carrier of three additional portfolios, she also served as the first woman mayor of Luxembourg in 1970. However, it is the 15 years spent with the European Community (EC) in Brussels, 11 of which she spent as the only woman delegate to the EC's European Parliament , that seems to have made the greatest impression on her and was most important in making her a proponent of a unified Europe.
One of Miss Flesch's oft-quoted phrases is ''Europe has been condemned by its history to seek unity.'' Having grown up during the tag end of World War II, and the subsequent ''glorious days'' of Jean Monnet and his brainchild, the -Common Market, she remains loyal to the concept of a unified Europe despite flagging support for the idea in recent years.
''I think the time for small countries is gone,'' she says with a nod toward her native Luxembourg, the smallest country in the EC. ''We are much more conscious of the need for interdependence and the need for unity than the larger countries are. We've always been small and we've always been overpowered by somebody.''
But beyond political ideology, the sheer economics of the unified approach makes great sense to her, despite recent criticisms of the EC's gigantic agricultural subsidies. ''The Common Agricultural Policy . . . costs an awful lot of money, true. But if we didn't have it . . . it would cost (us) more money and be more disruptive in our own and in world markets. I don't believe you ought to calculate every dime, nickel, and penny and say, 'Have I gotten out of it everything I've put into it?' ''
Miss Flesch shrugs off such magnanimity and expansiveness of spirit as easily as she disclaims her remarkable political record. Having attended such American institutions as Wellesley College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (she's in Boston to give an address at Fletcher) in pursuit of her BA, MA, and PhD, she admits that ''I applied more as a joke than anything else'' during her year as a high school exchange student in Vermont. ''When I was suddenly accepted at a number of places with scholarships, I decided, well, why not?''
Why not, indeed. Her jump in 1969 from civil servant with the EC Council of Ministers to an elected position in the Luxembourg Parliament came about in an equally cavalier fashion - a sudden phone call from the Christian Democratic Party during a dinner party she was hosting. Would she like to run? ''I suddenly thought, well, this would be fun, and I said, 'OK.' ''
And while she did not expect to be elected, and as she puts it, ''I was not elected,'' she did squeak in as the second alternate and managed to serve that first term on a technicality. From there it was only a small leap to the European Parliament that same year. And if that were not enough to keep the dual delegate off the streets, she decided to run for the -Luxembourg City Council the following year. In keeping with her rather effortless success, she won the most votes in her party and received the mayor's sash for a six-year term. Ten years later she finds herself thrust into the innermost workings of the coalition government as vice-president and leader of the Democratic Party.
About the only thing that appears to have been sacrificed in the Flesch dash for success is her attempts for an Olympic medal in fencing. After three tries, ''Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Mexico 1968,'' she rattles off without hesitation, she abruptly gave it up. In sports, she says, ''I'm ambitious.'' But if she can't give something her full time and attention, she'd rather not do it at all.
But as far as possessing other points of pride and ambition, Miss Flesch says she has none, despite the success and acclaim that accompany her new job as vice-president and minister of foreign affairs, justice, and the -economy. ''No, I have never had any goals in politics. It doesn't work to go out after such and such a job, because that's the first way not to get it.'' She prefers instead the age-old adage of work, hard work, and more hard work. ''I've worked hard in whatever I've been doing, and whenever another opportunity came along I've grabbed it every time. But I've never been striving.''
Perhaps the ballast for what appears to be this well-adjusted private and public figure, seated comfortably and smiling amiably here on the couch, is her ability to keep all the pomp and circumstance in perspective. ''What has helped me a lot, I think, one, that I take my job seriously; I don't take myself seriously. And two, that I've never lost my sense of humor.''
Such perspective is not easy to come by, especially when one's job requires her to be a nation's George Bush, Alexander Haig, David Stockman, and William French Smith all in one, even if that nation could physically fit into Utah's Great Salt Lake.
But Miss Flesch possesses the curious charm of being able to shrug off any sense of personal mandate regarding her job. She refuses to carry any burden of proof as the first woman this or that. ''No, I feel my mandate is that I ought to try to do my job as well as I can do it. (As a woman), you're being watched more closely . . . but once you go beyond that point - no problem! I've never been in any situation where I felt that being a woman made it more difficult for me.''
Obviously, not every woman, working or otherwise, can testify to such a lack of discrimination. While Miss Flesch concedes that the absence of a husband and children in her case has perhaps eased things a bit, she refuses to admit that many sacrifices have been made to get where she is. Also, she remains concerned with the woman's movement.
''I have a feeling that a considerable number of things have been achieved, which probably explains why it -(feminism) is no longer that active (in Europe). But it is still something one has to reckon with.'' Voicing support for the appointment of a women's-rights delegate to the new French prime minister's cabinet, Miss Flesch adds that ''what you call in this country 'affirmative action' '' is really more effective. ''What does discrimination in the field of work amount to nowadays? It's in the hiring policies of companies, in the promotion policies, in the day-to-day life at the office, at the plant. . . . This is of course very difficult to rule out. Laws alone will not do it.''
The vice-president is equally outspoken on other issues. An emphasis on collective efforts, rather than the isolated thrust of the individual, runs through her views like the refrain to a familiar song. It's an attitude that seems rooted in a Germanic type of pragmatism. But of the Luxembourgeois it has been said that they work like the Germans and live like the French.
Her strong belief in a unified Europe is a sign of that pragmatism. So is her desire to whip Europe's economic house into order before doing anything else. ''There's no point in having such a bad (economic) situation that we won't be able to do what I think we ought to be doing,'' she says, referring especially to Western Europe's aid programs for developing countries. Fortunately for Luxembourg, the pint-size nation is in the enviable position of possessing one of the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in Western Europe.
Even so, the Luxembourg home front is not all domestic tranquillity. Heavily dependent upon its steel production, Luxembourg is facing a ''steel crisis'' from increased foreign competition. Miss Flesch says attempts are under way to limit national production levels to drive up prices. Industrial diversification plans are being actively pursued as well.
But perhaps the biggest fly in the Luxembourg ointment is the proposed withdrawal of the ever-controversial European Parliament. The ponderous and expensive parliamentary body migrates each month between its two home cities of Luxembourg and Strasbourg, France. Critics have charged that the constant move is unnecessary and redundant. And in July the Parliament itself voted to eliminate Luxembourg from the merry-go-round. The loss of that stopover would mean millions in lost revenue for the tiny nation, which has recently invested heavily in constructing a new Parliament headquarters. Not surprisingly, Luxembourg has filed a countermotion with the European Court of Justice.
Here the vice-president's pragmatism and ability to incorporate partisan views into the larger good stand her in good stead. And she deftly turns what seems a simple issue of economics into a legal precedent. ''This is a great issue with us, of course. But it's not even a mainly economic issue. It's a question of the application of law.'' Contending that the Parliament has assumed a decisionmaking ability belonging to the member states, the former delegate cautions present members, ''Watch out! This is a precedent . . . a question of principle.''
Perhaps where the vice-president's practical touch is most in evidence is in the question of the Soviet threat to Western Europe. ''Oh, I would say economic matters are more important,'' she says almost offhandedly. Western -Europeans ''are not that concerned about the Soviet threat.''Of more concern to her is the recent spate of anti--American protest percolating through West Germany and other European nations. ''Well, I'll tell you frankly that I'm quite concerned about it, and I do think the governments have a tremendous resonsibility in Europe to try and curb that.''When asked to pinpoint reasons for the renewed protest, she cites ''a lot of things. I think in a way it's the consequence of the affluent society. Things have been going well and people don't want war. They're afraid that the more militarist stand (of the US) could bring about war . . . that the US is dragging us into this situation without having asked us what we feel about it.''
Relations between the United States and Western Europe demand constant communication, she asserts. ''You know, you are rightly quite critical of the Europeans and you say we want all the advantages of being allies of the US, but we don't want to bear any part of the burden. But you must also look at the other side of the picture. When America takes such a strong stand on the neutron bomb, for instance, without consulting the allies, what sort of situation does it put European governments in?''
A balance of power and the continuous cycle of ascending and descending powers-that-be is something very much on the stateswoman's mind. Where does she put herself in the picture? Lessons gleaned from her sporting days as an aspiring fencer still ring true for her: ''The fact of achieving something gives you a sense of confidence. It teaches you that nothing is given to you. Even when you are very talented, you have to work for it. . . . It teaches you how to lose and how to win, which is almost as difficult as learning how to lose.'' Vice-President Flesch seems to have learned her lessons well.
''The main reason voters stuck with him is that he's such a good contrast to all the confrontation we had before,'' observes Dr. Sidney Kraus, chairman and professor of the communications department at Cleveland State University. Louisville
Former Mayor Harvey Sloan made a political comeback out of the mayoral race when he led a Democratic sweep of city offices and won election to the post he held from 1973-77.
Mr. Sloan, a physician and former neighborhood health administrator, easily defeated Republican George Clark, a fast-food company executive who waged the most expensive campaign in the city's history.Winning by a 2-to-1 margin, Sloan led in some predominantly black areas by as much as a 7-to-1 margin. ''When I campaigned in the black community and with labor, there was a spontaneous reaction to Reaganomics,'' Sloan said in a post-election interview. ''I didn't particularly campaign on it, but it was there. It really should send a message to Washington about some of their policies, especially after Reagan carried this county last year.
''For the most part, Sloan ran on his previous record as mayor, which he described as taking an ''activist'' approach to social issues. He also campaigned on the theme of restoring community pride, which he said had been dampened for the last four years under Mayor William Stansbury, another Democrat , who was not eligible for reelection. Sloan says he will stress small business growth and other economic development, and the rebuilding of the core city while strongly opposing any attempt by the Reagan administration to cut back on federal revenue-sharing.
He also says he will ''leave open the option of running for governor of Kentucky in 1983 depending on ''how things go in Louisville.'' Sloan finished a respectable second to Gov. John Y. Brown in the 1979 Democratic gubernatorial primary and he has made no secret of his continuing interest in statewide office. Miami
The latinization of Miami politics has become even more firmly established with results of this week's election.
Both candidates now heading for a Nov. 10 runoff for mayor - including incumbent Maurice Ferre - are Hispanic. A non-Hispanic white finished a distant third. The majority of city council members already are Hispanic.
It would be ''extremely difficult'' for a non-Latin white to be elected Mayor , says Harvey R. Reiseman, third-place finisher in the mayoral race with just 9 percent of the vote.Puerto Rican-born Mayor Ferre, running for his fifth two-year term, got about 40 percent of the vote, with strong support from black communities. His challenger in the runoff, Cuban-born Manolo Reboso, a former city council member, got 37 percent.
Hispanics comprise about 36 percent of the registered voters, whites 34 percent, and blacks 29 percent. The city population is about 55 percent Hispanic.
Mayor Ferre is running on his record, claiming credit for the downtown construction boom in offices and condominiums, keeping taxes down, and spurring international trade with Latin America. Messrs.
Reboso and Reiseman accused the mayor of ignoring many needs of neighborhoods , not effectively tackling high crime rates, and allowing some city services to decline in quality.
Ferre's survival may depend on another heavy show of support in the runoff by blacks. Miami Banker Luis Botifoll, a former journalist in Cuba, suggests that Ferre's black support might be due to his backing of a black for city manager and his long ties to the black community. Many so-called Anglo voters (non-Latin whites) may stay home, although Reiseman is likely to endorse Reboso, making the race a ''close'' one, says Mr. Botifoll.
Reboso, cochairman of the Democrats for Reagan campaign in Florida, used a Reagan tactic of asking voters if life today is better for them than a few years ago. With inflation, an inundation of Cuban refugees, a continuing flow of Haitian refugees, a riot in black communities, and a soaring crime rate in the past 18 months in Miami, Reboso's question likely added to discontent with Mayor Ferre.
In other big-city races across the country, there were no surprises but there was good news for two black candidates and two women. City Controller Kathy Whitmire lead the field in the Houston mayoral race, amid heavy voter turnout. A runoff election is set for Nov. 24 between Whitmire, the first woman to make a serious bid for the office, and Sheriff Jack Heard, who ran on a law-and-order platform. Incumbent Mayor Jim McConn finished a poor fourth in a jammed 15 -candidate field. The $82,800-a-year job is the highest-paying mayor's job in the country.
Margaret Hance (R) garnered more than 70 percent of the vote to settle into her fourth term as mayor of Phoenix.Democrat Thirman L. Milner was elected mayor of Hartford, Connecticut's capital. A civil rights activist and two-term state representative, Mr. Milner is the first popularly elected black mayor in New England. He was helped by the overwhelming Democratic registration in Hartford.
And in Spokane, Wash., City Councilman James Chase defeated Wayne Guthrie, a former councilman, to become the first black mayor of that eastern Washington city.
Incumbents were easily re-elected in Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Seattle. Donald M. Fraser, a former Democratic congressman, bested a field of four other candidates to win in Minneapolis. He beat his closest opponent, Mike Barros, by a 2-to-1 margin.
Pittsburgh's Richard Caliguiri (D) won in a landslide over token opposition from Fred Goehringer (R). In Seattle, incumbent Charles Royer defeated black city council president Sam Smith by a 3-to-1 margin.