NOGENT-SUR-MARNE, France (AP) — Residents are blasting a plan to erect a statue with a face resembling that of France's Italian-born first lady in an effort to honor this small town's immigrants from Italy.
Opponents say that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the elegant former top model from Turin, Italy's moneyed class, has no link to this blue-collar town east of Paris.
Mayor Jacques Martin, a big supporter of President Nicolas Sarkozy, denies claims by Socialist rivals that the likeness of the first lady is a political move — and said Monday that he stands by his plan.
The 8-foot-tall (2.5-meter) statue will go up in a square in the Little Italy development under way to pay homage to Italian immigrants who settled here. Men often worked as masons and women in the feather business.
"I don't see what Carla Bruni is going to do here," said resident Catherine Pelle. "She's not from the area. No, I don't see any rapport with our town."
Mayor Martin said it is "out of the question that we will change anything" about the planned euro81 million bronze statue.
"The choice was a very good choice," he said in an interview. "We are very proud of it."
He denied what he said are false reports that the town will pay half the cost of the statue. The developer will cover the full cost, he said.
Numerous residents encountered here were unhappy, and rival Socialists are vexed.
The project is "grotesque," the online version of the newsweekly "L'Express" quoted local Socialist politician William Geib as saying. The first lady "doesn't represent the world of the working class."
The mayor has spent days trying to douse the fires of discontent. On Monday, he said the statue would not go up until after France's presidential election this spring. For months, polls have shown Sarkozy far behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.
Elizabeth Cibot, the sculptor, said the statue was originally conceived as a male stone mason. "Then it became a woman and then Mr. Martin (the mayor) suggested to me and we discussed working on the face of Madame Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who is Italian, who has a beautiful face so that was enough to decide on her."
Still, a huge statue with Bruni-Sarkozy's face in a square of the new development seems incongruous to many.
"It's great to pay homage to the Italian immigrants here ... and it's true that Carla Bruni is a very beautiful Italian woman," said marketing specialist Valerie Geoffrey. "But, unfortunately, I don't think the face of Carla Bruni on the head of this statue is well suited to this situation."