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Cablegate: Municipal Elections in the South of France: An Overview Of

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DE RUEHMRE #0066/01 2681459
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P 251459Z SEP 07
FM AMCONSUL MARSEILLE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1795
INFO RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0498
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHSR/AMCONSUL STRASBOURG PRIORITY 0114
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHMRE/AMCONSUL MARSEILLE 0787

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MARSEILLE 000066

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DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/WE, DRL/IL, INR/EUC, EUR/ERA, EUR/PPD,
AND EB
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB
PARIS FOR ECON, POL, PD FOR PAO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI EU FR PINR ECON ELAB
SUBJECT: MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE: AN OVERVIEW OF
THE THREE LARGEST CITIES


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1. Summary: The 2008 municipal elections in the three largest
cities in the south of France (Marseille, Nice and Montpellier)
will probably not see any city halls changing hands. Marseille
and Nice will remain UMP, and Montpellier PS. Marseille will
see the closest race, as the powerful socialist Jean Noel
Guerini challenges UMP baron Jean Claude Gaudin. The UMP may
upend its own incumbent, Jerome Peyrat (76), in Nice and run
youthful Sarkozy confidante Christian Estrosi (52) in place of
the aging Peyrat. Montpellier will remain the fief of ex-mayor
Georges Freche (69). Despite Freche's excommunication from the
Socialist Party for repeated racist remarks, his handpicked
successor Helene Mandroux (66) will easily win re-election. The
following is a snapshot of each race as they get underway. End
Summary.

2. Marseille: The battle of the titans will be held! Although
the UMP will likely win, this is the race to watch. Jean Noel
Guerini (56), President of the Bouches des Rhones Department and
the undisputed leader of the powerful Bouches des Rhone PS
federation is for the first time running for mayor against Jean
Claude Gaudin (68), the UMP baron and life-long presence in
Marseille politics. Guerini will have the battle-hardened
Patrick Mennucci as campaign manager, following his rise to
national prominence as one of the managers of Segolene Royal's
presidential run. Gaudin is the front-runner in this election,
but Marseille has powerful PS currents that Guerini will tap
into. Although the PS lost two Marseille seats in the June 2007
legislative elections, both losses were very close (For example,
Patrick Mennucci lost to the incumbent Jean Roatta by 248
votes). As Department president, Guerini also presides over the
largest budget in the area, allowing him to make politically
astute earmarks in the run up to the election. Gaudin has
several accomplishments he can point to: the new tramway, the
growing Euromed business zone, several new schools, a slight
decline in the unemployment rate. Gaudin is also very close to
President Sarkozy, and delivered Marseille for him in May.
Sarkozy can be counted on to return the favor. But Marseille
remains a poor city with long-term employment and affordable
housing issues that Guerini can exploit. Traffic and trash
collection remain flashpoints as well. Guerini's candidacy was
in doubt for a while due to a health scare (major heart surgery)
at the beginning of 2007, but in recent encounters has seemed
slimmed down and full of energy.

3. Montpellier: No surprises in Montpellier. The Socialist
Party machine built by Georges Freche continues to run the city
and will easily carry the next elections. Despite his problems
with the PS at the national level, the larger than life Freche
continues to be the arbiter of the political landscape of the
Languedoc Roussillon region. His hand-picked successor Helene
Mandroux (66) will stand for re-election and has no strong
opponents. The long-time "leader of the right" in the region,
Jacques Blanc, is considered by many to be past his sell-by
date, but shows no signs of ceding his position to anyone else.
This will not help Jacques Domergue, the likely UMP candidate
for mayor of Montpellier. The issues before Montpellier remain
those associated with rapid growth: transport, lodging,
education, green growth, etc.... Montpellier's growth shows no
signs of slowing. It remains one of the fastest growing cities
in France and native-born citizens are in the minority.

4. Nice: The election threatens not to be nice in Nice but the
UMP will prevail in this traditional stronghold of the right.
The UMP incumbent Jacques Peyrat (76) has announced his
re-election bid, but it is virtually certain that youthful
Sarkozy confidante Christian Estrosi (52), Secretary of State
for Overseas Territories and President of the Alpes-Maritime
Department will seek to dethrone Peyrat as the UMP candidate.
Peyrat is unpopular in Nice, with several in his entourage
caught up in financial scandals. In addition, the Nice tramway
faces delays, and several other transport projects have made the
city a traffic nightmare for the past few years. Estrosi has
much stronger UMP ties than Peyrat, who is ex-FN. However,
Peyrat, an ex-paratrooper, will not go without a fight. His
opening line in announcing his re-election bid was, "Some say
they want my hide. They will have to come get it!" If denied
the UMP nomination, he has said he will run as an independent.
The PS is also having difficulty selecting a candidate for the
elections. In what is being called the "War of the Patricks"
Patrick Allemand, VP of the PACA region and Patrick Mottard,
leader of the opposition in the Nice City council, are fighting

MARSEILLE 00000066 002.2 OF 002


over who will lead the left in the municipal elections. On the
issues, Nice is a city struggling with ethnic tensions. Tourism
numbers are strong, but Nice is waking up to the fact that the
booming Mediterranean cruise ship sector is passing it by, due
to an inability to welcome the large ships in the harbor.

5. Comment: With the exception of Peyrat in Nice, who faces an
internal UMP challenge, none of the incumbents have declared
they will run, preferring to use the power of the incumbency
while seeming to stand above the fray. But the race is clearly
on.
BREEDEN

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