Obituary: Jacques Medecin

JACQUES MEDECIN, the disgraced former mayor of Nice who has died in exile in Uruguay at the age of 70, was a lovable rogue. Lovable to some, at any rate. To others, he was a crook, an embezzler, a womaniser, a fantasist and a racist.

As mayor, or dictator, of Nice for 24 years, he counted among his mortal enemies Charles de Gaulle, Graham Greene and Francois Mitterrand. He counted among his friends Jean-Marie Le Pen, the President of the National Front, and several of the leading figures in the syndicates of organised crime and corrupt business which have tarnished the reputation, and the sky- line, of the Cote d'Azur in the last three decades.

He once said: "I've never met a Jew who would refuse a present, even if it was one he didn't like." Much the same could have been said of Medecin himself. In 1982, in a celebrated pamphlet (never published in France) entitled J'Accuse, Graham Greene, a resident of nearby Antibes, excoriated the deepening corruption of the Cote d'Azur and the political-business- criminal network surrounding Medecin in particular.

Even though he skipped to South America in 1990 to avoid charges of tax evasion and pillaging the city's finances - charges for which he was extradited in 1994 and served one year in prison in France - "Jacquou" remained until his death a hugely popular figure in his home town.

The people of Nice - or a majority of the people of Nice - forgave him everything. With a series of costly leisure and sporting projects, he made the city cosmopolitan, trendy and expansive again after it slid into genteel torpor under the mayorship of his father, Jean, during the 1950s and 1960s. For the many thousands of former Algerian colonists who moved to Nice, Medecin was the man who insulted de Gaulle publicly and went out of his way to make them welcome.

He ran Nice along the lines of a newly industrialised nation or an old- style American city hall: machine politics, cronyism, patronage and a non-stop political campaign. His father once memorably said that it was impossible to run Nice without finding a role for the city's gangsters but you should "never give them a lift in your car". Medecin fils ignored this metaphorical advice, making provocatively public alliances with local hoodlums.

By siphoning off a part of the city's income with a series of front organisations, he made himself a multi-millionaire but declined to pay taxes. He insisted that his total earnings were pounds 10,000 a year. After marrying a young Californian, Ilene Graham, in 1979, Medecin spent more and more time in the United States. (He had not yet divorced his first wife but was saved from bigamy on a technicality; he had not registered his new marriage in Las Vegas with the French consulate.)

Medecin had always been attracted to the far right. He was an indefatigable defender of apartheid. In his later years as mayor, he became increasingly attracted to the xenophobic, anti-immigrant National Front, declaring Le Pen to be "99 per cent correct".

Finally, as the government investigators closed in, and his unexplained absences from Nice grew longer, Medecin chose to flee. His departure was as grandiose and bizarre as his mayorship. He went to Osaka to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the city's twinning with Nice. Instead of returning, he flew to Argentina, then Uruguay, claiming that he was the victim of a plot by the wicked Socialists now running France (some of whom turned out to be almost as corrupt as Medecin).

"I have always been a warrior and I will fight on to the last drop of my blood," he said. "But today, faced by the crushing weight of the totalitarian, Socialist power machine in France, I have been forced to make a tactical retreat."

His principled stand was somewhat undercut when a policeman found a suitcase containing the equivalent of pounds 70,000 in cash at Charles de Gaulle airport, addressed to the runaway mayor in Uruguay.

Medecin's legend in Nice remains intact. His death in exile has become an issue in the parliamentary by-election in the city, which occurs this weekend - a macabre piece of timing that Medecin would have adored.

The centre-right candidate Jacqueline Mathieu-Obadia described him as a "very great mayor . . . loved, very loved . . . an extraordinary man".

Mathieu-Obadia is a member of the RPR or neo-Gaullist party. Medecin detested de Gaulle and fought against Gaullism, and its descendants, most of his life. Such a fulsome Gaullist tribute to an anti-Gaullist reveals the continuing power of "Medecinisme" eight years after he fled the city. It also illustrates the vacant ideology and the muddled political genealogy of the French centre right, after a series of political failures and scandals of which Medecin's was one of the first but not necessarily the worst.

Jacques Medecin, local politician: born Nice, France 5 May 1928; Mayor of Nice 1966-90; thrice married (three daughters); died Punta del Este, Uruguay 17 November 1998.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering