Sarkozy protege dumped in local election race

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President Nicolas Sarkozy's protege for the mayoral race in his long-time political fief, the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly, was sidelined from the contest on Sunday

   PARIS, February 11, 2008 - President Nicolas Sarkozy's protege for the
mayoral race in his long-time political fief, the chic Paris suburb of
Neuilly, was sidelined from the contest on Sunday to ward off an embarrassing
defeat in next month's municipal election.
   Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon, 36, has been heading up the right-wing
UMP list in Neuilly -- where Sarkozy was mayor from 1983 to 2002 -- with the
full backing of the president, who even sent his second son Jean, 21, to work
on the campaign.
   But on Saturday Le Figaro newspaper published a secret poll which showed
Martinon losing to a local rival.
   Faced with the prospect of a defeat in his own political stronghold -- 86
percent of Neuilly voters backed Sarkozy for president last year -- Le Figaro
suggested he had "no choice but to get Martinon out of there."
   On Sunday Sarkozy's son and two local heavyweights from the Union for a
Popular Movement (UMP) party issued a joint statement saying they were setting
up a rival election list because of "major disagreements" with Martinon.
   "We have decided to set up a unity list for the municipal elections in
Neuilly in order to end the divergences in the presidential majority camp
about our town," said the statement, co-signed by local UMP heads Marie-Cecile
Menard and Arnaud Teulle and sent from Jean Sarkozy's e-mail.
   Martinon's candidacy -- seen as "parachuted" in from above -- has gone down
badly in Neuilly, France's richest town.
   "Out in the field, he's no good. He blushes, he mumbles, he even seems
afraid. Obviously communication is not his strong point," Le Parisien
newspaper quoted a local novelist, named only as Yves, as saying.
   "He has a bad image. And with Jean Sarkozy as his support, it feels like
living in a Banana Republic."
   Le Figaro's report sparked panic among Martinon's aides, who convened an
emergency press conference Saturday to deny the rumours, only to call it off
at the last minute.
   Finally on Sunday Martinon's campaign director Olivier Babeau told AFP the
candidate would remain in place -- only for him to be disowned by the party an
hour later.
   Martinon had been expected to accompany the president on a two-day trip to
French Guiana starting Monday, but was not present when Sarkozy's plane left
Orly airport south of Paris late Sunday night.
   Sarkozy has plunged to a low of 41 percent in the polls, a tumble blamed on
overexposure of his romance with France's new first lady Carla Bruni, jarring
with the darkening mood of ordinary French people concerned about the economy.
   Many right-wing deputies fear the president's slump in popularity will cost
them their second jobs as mayors or local councillors in the March vote.

AFP 

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