Party official: Sarkozy's son will not run in suburban Paris mayoral race

AP Photo XJB108, PAR106

By EMMANUEL GEORGES-PICOT

Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 21-year-old son will not stand for mayor in a wealthy Paris suburb, the leader of the conservative UMP party said Tuesday, putting an end to speculation about the young man's intentions.

That news was the latest installment in a local political drama that has riveted the nation because it touches on the centers of power in France and, some believe, reflects its inner workings.

Jean Sarkozy burst onto the political scene over the weekend in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine -- long the political bastion of the president -- by publicly disavowing the candidate his father had selected to run as mayor.

The candidate -- David Martinon, the president's chief spokesman -- pulled out of the race Monday.

The surprise turnaround left France's governing conservatives reeling and led many to wonder about Jean Sarkozy's political ambitions.

Jean Sarkozy, the second of the president's three sons, "has a lot of talent, he's a smart and sensitive boy who loves politics," Patrick Devedjian, the secretary-general of the president's UMP party, told Europe-1 radio. But "his time has not come."

"There is no monarchy in Neuilly," Devedjian said, alluding to the fact that the president himself had long served as mayor of Neuilly, and used the post as a stepping stone toward the presidency.

The Sarkozy administration views winning March 9 and 16 municipal elections as a national priority. Losing Neuilly would amount to losing face.

There had been indications that Martinon's campaign was struggling, and Jean Sarkozy and two political allies said Sunday that they were breaking ranks with him.

Martinon dropped out of the race and offered to resign as Sarkozy's press secretary, but the president turned down that offer.

The party has insisted that President Sarkozy was not involved in the Neuilly turnaround, but observers said it would have been difficult for his son to act without his father's approval.

Sarkozy's UMP party could not come up with a replacement for Martinon, and on Tuesday announced that it would support an outsider who was ahead in the polls. Chosen candidate Jean-Christophe Fromantin, an entrepreneur who has lived in Neuilly for more than two decades, does not even belong to the president's party.

The French president, 4,200 miles away in French Guiana, advised all concerned to calm down.

"Difficulties must be faced with sang-froid, with humility," he told a news conference, in a reference to the turmoil in Neuilly and sinking poll numbers.

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Associated Press Writer Nathalie Schuck in French Guiana contributed to this report.