French soil here? Oui, for a day

Published May 17, 2007

LARGO - As the French celebrate - or mourn - the election of conservative Nicolas Sarkozy as their new president, they can tip their glass to Largo, the city with the French connection.

Largo became a polling place for the French presidential election when Schiller International University, 300 East Bay Drive, declared a multipurpose room "French soil" for a day.

"We loaned it to the French consulate because they the electorate must vote on French soil, " said Dr. Cathy Eberhart, Schiller's interim president.

On May 5, 234 French nationals from around the west coast of Florida came to Largo to vote. (The election was held on May 6 in France but a day earlier here because of the time difference.)

Voters in Largo, 84 percent of them, went for Sarkozy, who said he would create warmer relations with the United States. Overall, Sarkozy collected 53 percent of the vote in his runoff with socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

Other French polling places were created in Orlando, West Palm Beach and Miami, said Jean-Charles Faust, honorary consul for France representing the Tampa Bay area. He is also a Realtor and president of the French American Business Council of West Florida.

"This is the first time the French government decentralized. Before, everyone had to go to Miami, " he said.

Faust presided over the Largo precinct, which had a French flag and a polling booth. Voters slipped paper ballots into envelopes, then into an urn. "The French way of voting is very simple, " he said. "The atmosphere is solemn and respectful."

Respectful yes, but those poll workers know how to have some fun. They were treated to quiche and a red wine, Cotes du Rhone, during lunch break, he said.

Still, they were discreet. "The room was off to the side, out of view, " he said.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.