7 Things to Know About Sarkozy

Getty Images
Getty Images

Nicolas Sarkozy is a short, conservative, hard-working Cassanova. He has cracked down on prostitution and negotiated with terrorist bombers to save children. He is an outsider who has worked his way in. Some think he's Napoleon, others say he's Brutus. We're just trying to get a handle on him. Here are 7 things everyone should know about France's President.

1. He Was Mayor by 22

Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, did most of his growing up in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a wealthy community immediately to the west of Paris. His family was not as affluent as those of most of his classmates, a fact he claims was humiliating and largely shaped who he is today. Sarkozy didn't have to wait long to get the last laugh, though. He earned a law degree, which he financed by peddling ice cream and flowers, and quickly jumped into the political arena. At just 22 years old he became a member of Neuilly's city council, and in 1983 he became the city's mayor, a position he held until 2002.

While serving as Neuilly's mayor Sarkozy also made major inroads as a national figure as well, and many Frenchmen thought of Sarkozy as a sort of protégé of Chirac. In 1993 a deranged kidnapper took a group of children hostage at a Neuilly kindergarten, and Sarkozy negotiated for their safe release with the suspect, who called himself "The Human Bomb."Â  (The children all escaped unharmed when police killed the kidnapper.)  Following this incident, Sarkozy became budget minister under Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.

2. He Broke his Mentor's Heart (and Stabbed him in the Back)

In 1995, Balladur ran for the presidency against Chirac. Sarkozy made the surprising decision to turn his back on his mentor Chirac and supported Balladur's candidacy. (The decision was all the more perplexing because Sarkozy had allegedly been romantically involved with Chirac's daughter Claude.) When Chirac bested Balladur, Sarkozy found himself saddled with a powerful enemy and temporarily lost his national position.
Despite this betrayal, Chirac knew that Sarkozy had a certain charisma and drive that made him a political asset. When Chirac won reelection in 2002, he decided to reconcile with Sarkozy, who took on a cabinet position as Minister of the Interior.  France's interior minister is in charge of civil defense and law enforcement, among other responsibilities, which made it the perfect position for Sarkozy to advance his right-wing law-and-order views, including a crackdown on prostitution and a renewed emphasis on road safety. A 2004 reorganization of the cabinet moved Sarkozy to a new position as finance minister, where he helped orchestrate a government bailout of engineering titan Alstom, which had gone bankrupt.

3. He was too Good to Ignore

By this time, Sarkozy was starting to establish himself as France's preeminent conservative. He won the leadership of the Union for a Popular Movement (UPM) in 2004 and left the cabinet to assume this role. From this platform Sarkozy pushed for economic reform, including deficit reduction, a tightening of unemployment benefits for those who turned down work, and tax simplification. During this period Chirac also convinced Sarkozy to return to his previous position as Minister of the Interior.

If Chirac had his eyes on a third term, though, Sarkozy's ambitions quickly laid waste to those plans. As early as 2003 Sarkozy admitted he had his eyes on the presidency; when television station France2 asked him if he thought about being president when he shaved in the morning, he quipped, "I do, and not just when I shave."

4. He's Diminutive

Napoleon established a precedent for French leaders whose ambitions are larger than their inseams, and Sarkozy has picked up this mantle two centuries later.  Reports vary, but most peg Sarkozy's height at 5'5" or 5'6", a marked change from Sarkozy's tall, thin predecessor Chirac.

5. But his Height Doesn't Bother the Ladies

Sarkozy has been married three times, which in itself isn't all that unusual.  The stories behind his marriages, though, must make French tabloid writers feel like they're getting gifts from the heavens. He first married Marie-Dominique Culioli in 1982; they had two sons before divorcing in 1996.
Although Sarkozy had been plagued by allegations of womanizing, things got juicy well before his divorce. He officiated the wedding of former model Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz to French TV personally Jacques Martin in 1984 as part of his duties as Neuilly's mayor. According to later interviews, Sarkozy asked himself "Why am I marrying this woman to someone else?  She is for me." Despite these misgivings, Sarkozy and his first wife befriended the Martins, even going so far as to become godparents to each other's children.  Cecilia eventually left her husband to live with Sarkozy in 1988 despite the slight hitch that both of them were still married to other people. (Despite this fact, she requested that she be known as Madame Sarkozy; locals preferred to derisively refer to her as "the mayor's whore.") The two were eventually married in 1996 and divorced in 2007 while Sarkozy was in office, giving him another connection to Napoleon, who divorced wife Josephine in 1809. During the divorce, Cecilia accused Sarkozy of being a stingy philanderer. For his part, he could point to accusations that she didn't vote for him in the second round of the presidential election and had undertaken very public affairs of her own.
Sarkozy wasn't wanting for a first lady for long, though.  By December he'd been spotted canoodling with former model and singer Carla Bruni, who's almost thirteen years Sarkozy's junior and a solid head taller.  He was in good company, at least; Bruni's former romantic links include such luminaries as Mick Jagger, Donald Trump, and Eric Clapton. The pair tied the knot in January 2008.

6. He Loves Celine Dion

Sarkozy has some highbrow hobbies, including collecting Rolexes (particularly Daytona models), but many of his interests reflect his upbringing as just another normal French guy.  He unabashedly loves reality TV and admits that he enjoys Celine Dion. Lenny Kravitz told reporters that Sarkozy so enjoyed his album It Is A Time For Revolution that the leader penned him a fan letter about his appreciation.

7. He Has Love Handles (and they get edited out)

Sarkozy enjoys a fairly chummy relationship with the French press.  When the magazine Paris Match ran a photo of a svelte, shirtless Sarkozy paddling a canoe on vacation in 2007, the leader looked like the picture of health.  What he really looked like was the picture of good Photoshopping, though. French magazine L'Express later exposed the photo as a fraud by uncovering the original, which showed Sarkozy with sizable love handles hanging over his shorts. Although the incident cause a minor stir, it's easy to see why Paris Match would be a bit gun-shy about embarrassing Sarkozy; the previous year he supposedly got an editor fired following the publication of pictures of Cecilia and a boyfriend apartment shopping.

10 Surprising Facts About Richard Nixon

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Often maligned but rarely boring, Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was the nation’s 37th president and the first to resign from office. Although his involvement in the Watergate break-in scandal tends to overshadow much of his life, there was more to Nixon—who was born on January 9, 1913—than his political improprieties. Check out some facts about his early law enforcement aspirations, why he got criticized for commenting on Charles Manson, and his infamous encounter with RoboCop.

1. Richard Nixon was a Quaker.

Also known as the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers have roots in 17th century England and promoted pacifism and spiritual equality among genders at a time those thoughts were not in fashion. When Nixon’s father, Frank, married Quaker Hannah Milhous, he joined a Quaker congregation and the couple raised their children as Quakers. Nixon’s religious faith allowed him an exemption from serving in World War II, but he waived it to enter the Navy. Later, when he was facing impeachment for his role in Watergate, Quakers in Milwaukee and Minneapolis apparently didn’t like the affiliation with the outcast president, petitioning for him to be removed from office months before he resigned.

2. Richard Nixon wanted to join the FBI.

A photograph of Richard Nixon's 1937 FBI application
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

In retrospect, it’s easy to imagine Nixon’s mannered disposition fitting comfortably in the stiff-necked legion of G-men that populated J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A little over a month before graduating from law school, Nixon applied to the Bureau in 1937, when he was just 24. After an in-person interview and physical, Nixon waited for a response. He never got one. Later, when Nixon was in office as vice president and queried Hoover about why he had not been accepted, Hoover told him it had been due to budget cuts.

3. Richard Nixon wrote love notes to his wife-to-be.

Nixon met his wife, Patricia, while the two appeared in a 1938 Whittier Community Players theater production titled The Dark Tower. Nixon set about courting her, writing letters that seemed uncharacteristically maudlin for the future president. He wrote: “And when the wind blows and the rains fall and the sun shines through the clouds (as it is now) he still resolves, as he did then, that nothing so fine ever happened to him or anyone else as falling in love with Thee – my dearest heart.” The two married in 1940.

4. A dog helped save Richard Nixon's political career (for a little while).

A family portrait of the Nixons and their dog, Checkers
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Controversy dogged Nixon early on. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower considered dropping Nixon as his vice-presidential running mate after allegations surfaced that Nixon was benefiting from a trust fund filled by his supporters to help offset his political and personal expenses. Going on radio and television to address the issue, Nixon cleverly slipped in an anecdote about his 6-year-old daughter being in love with a cocker spaniel named Checkers that had been “donated” by a campaign supporter. Believing that any man who loved dogs couldn’t be all bad, the public sentiment turned and he remained on the ticket.

“It was labeled as the ‘Checkers speech,’ as though the mention of my dog was the only thing that saved my career," Nixon later wrote. "Many of the critics glided over the fact that the fund was thoroughly explained, my personal finances laid bare, and an admittedly emotional but honest appeal made for public support."

5. Richard Nixon literally made the mornings darker.

In 1973, to save fuel during an energy crisis, Nixon signed a law that mandated that daylight saving would be in effect year-round starting on January 6, 1974. But kids wound up waiting for their school buses in pitch-black conditions, and there was a fear they might get hit by traffic—so the idea was scrapped in 1975.

6. Richard Nixon had a bowling alley installed under the White House.

Richard Nixon in the bowling alley at the White House in 1971
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Nixon, an avid bowler, was pleased to see that the love of bowling that inspired Harry Truman to build lanes in the White House in 1947 was still going strong when he took office in 1969. That alley was moved in 1955, and Nixon actually ordered that a new lane be built underground under the North Portico entrance and favored the new location because it was more private than the lanes that were open to other staffers. Nixon reportedly bowled a respectable 232.

7. Richard Nixon wanted the Secret Service to wear uniforms.

The president’s security detail is usually dressed for business: Suits, ties, and sunglasses are the normal attire for many agents, while those patrolling the White House grounds wear police-style uniforms. When Nixon took office, however, he wanted his men to resemble the palace guards he had seen in other countries. The Service assigned to his personal detail wore white double-breasted tunics and hats that vaguely resembled the Empire’s underlings in a Star Wars film. After he was criticized by the press, Nixon abandoned the idea and the outfits were eventually donated to a high school marching band.

8. Richard Nixon almost messed up Charles Manson's murder trial.

Richard Nixon frowns during a public appearance
AFP/Getty Images

Nixon’s first year in office coincided with the national obsession over cult leader Charles Manson and his followers, some of whom had gone on a murder spree in 1969 that left actress Sharon Tate and several others dead. During Manson’s trial in August 1970, Nixon proclaimed Manson “was guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason.” Manson’s lawyers moved for a mistrial based on Nixon’s comments. The president quickly retracted his statement, with a spokesperson suggesting he neglected to include the word “allegedly.”

9. Richard Nixon met RoboCop.

In 1987, Nixon attended a national board meeting for the Boys Club of America. Also on hand to fete organizers and kids was a guy dressed as Robocop. (The unknown actor was definitely not Peter Weller, star of the 1987 feature, and the ill-fitting costume was definitely not the original.) For years, an image of the meeting circulated on the internet without context before a crack sleuth determined it had been snapped for Billboard magazine.

10. Richard Nixon's meeting with Elvis Presley made National Archives history.

Richard Nixon greets Elvis Presley at the White House in 1970
National Archives/Getty Images

On December 21, 1970, Nixon greeted one of the more colorful characters to ever enter the White House: Elvis Presley. The singer apparently wanted a badge or other token of law enforcement; as the King was high on fighting the war on drugs at the time. (Unfortunately, Presley had drug issues of his own that may have contributed to his death in 1977.) A photo of the meeting between the two is (as of 2015) the most requested image in the National Archives, outpacing requests for the moon landing, the Declaration of Independence, or the Bill of Rights.

Tennessee Politician Wants to Replace State Capitol Statue of Confederate General With Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton performs on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1991.
Dolly Parton performs on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1991.
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The Tennessee Capitol currently displays eight busts of historical figures, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and founding member of the Ku Klux Klan. According to artnet News, Forrest made a fortune as a slave trader before the war, and is now mostly remembered for leading 1864’s Fort Pillow Massacre, during which his troops killed hundreds of black Union soldiers who were trying to surrender.

Though some people argue that Forrest's later support of racial harmony justifies keeping his statue in the Capitol, Republican representative Jeremy Faison thinks it’s time to honor someone else—he’s suggesting Dolly Parton, a Tennessee native known for songs like “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” her Tennessee theme park, Dollywood; and, of course, her illustrious country music career.

He’s open to other ideas, too, but he thinks it should be a woman. Right now, all eight of the busts belong to men.

“My daughter is 16, and I would love for her to come into the Capitol and see a lady up there,” Faison told the Tennessean. “What’s wrong with Anne Dallas Dudley getting in that alcove?” Dudley, a Nashville-born suffragist, helped Tennessee become the final state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

Faison is a relatively new voice advocating to replace Forrest’s controversial bust; he originally felt that it should keep its place in the Capitol, since Forrest is a part of history. However, after Representative G.A. Hardaway encouraged him to delve into Forrest’s ideology, Faison decided Forrest’s role in history could be remembered and studied without granting him a place of honor in the state Capitol. Instead, he thinks the bust should be relocated to a museum.

nathan bedford forrest
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

There are about 50,000 signatures on a petition calling for Tennessee governor Bill Lee to move Forrest’s bust, but it could still take a while for Tennesseans to see a bronze Dolly Parton in the Capitol. Before any action is taken, the State Capitol Commission and the Tennessee Historical Commission would have to vote on a resolution, and no such resolution has been introduced yet.

[h/t artnet News]

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