National Front plots as Nice mayor quits: Right-wing contenders manoeuvre to fill gap left by fugitive Medecin

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The Independent Online
THE CITY of Nice, bereft of a strong mayor since Jacques Medecin fled the country to avoid tax evasion charges three years ago, is in search of another interim administrator.

On Friday Honore Bailet, 73, an independent Gaullist city councillor chosen to replace Mr Medecin in 1990, said he was resigning because of ill health, ending a lacklustre career running the affairs of one of the world's most glamorous cities. While Mr Bailet has been in office, his stepson has been charged in a murder case and his wife has been charged for receiving stolen goods.

The main political parties agreed that Mr Bailet's successor should be chosen by council members, the normal procedure. The victor is likely to be Jean-Paul Barety, a Gaullist. The election will probably take place this week.

The new mayor's first term will be short, until the next municipal elections are held throughout France in March 1995. Then, a full-scale vote for the whole council will be held and, on current showings, it could well be the current leader of the local far-right National Front who wins.

When Mr Bailet announced his resignation, the National Front called for an early election to settle the Medecin succession by universal suffrage. The party's front-runner in Nice is Jacques Peyrat, a popular lawyer. Mr Peyrat's most famous client was Albert Spaggiari, who organised the 1976 theft of money and valuables from a Nice bank by burrowing into its vaults from nearby sewers. The robbers were dubbed 'the sewer rats' and a film made of their exploit.

Mr Spaggiari, a far-right militant who died of cancer a few years ago, never faced trial. In custody for some months, he jumped from the first-floor window of the office of an examining magistrate during questioning. A waiting motorcyclist whisked him away, according to the magistrate and Mr Peyrat who watched the escape. He was never caught.

The chief Gaullist in Nice is Christian Estrosi, 38, a former member of the Pernod-Ricard motorcycling team and a National Assembly deputy for the city. Although he would be a natural choice to try and take the town hall for the Gaullist RPR, he has stated a public preference for Jacques Toubon, the Culture Minister and a native Nicois. Mr Toubon has so far been reluctant to commit himself to his home town.

Despite a bad reputation outside the city, Mr Medecin has retained a good deal of affection in Nice itself. He fled to Uruguay on a first-class ticket - paid for by the ratepayer - after he and his father before him had run Nice for six decades.

A recent and so far unpublished poll by the Nice University Institute of Technology on attitudes towards the former mayor found that 86 per cent of the sample of Nicois questioned would vote for Mr Medecin if he stood for the presidency of France.

Because of the poor image that the anti-immigration National Front has with some parts of the electorate, Mr Peyrat is said by associates to be considering leaving the far-right party to concentrate on a political career as an independent.

With some 40 per cent of the Nice electorate professing to be of the right, against 29 per cent of the centre and 30 per cent on the left, Mr Peyrat could be well placed next time round to take the town hall on the edge of the Bay of Angels.