Residents of a blue-collar Paris suburb are irked that public money is being spent on a statue of France's controversial first lady as a way of honouring the community's Italian immigrants.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former top model and singer, may be Italian, but the residents of Nogent-sur-Marne say she does not represent their town or its working-class roots. And they're not happy about reports that $50,000 from municipal coffers will be spent on the eight-foot-tall bronze mold in the centre of Little Italy.

What's more, some people see the statue as a blatant endorsement of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election this spring.

Nogent-sur-Marne's mayor, Jacques Martin, is a member of Sarkozy's conservative Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party. And he doesn't hide his admiration for the glamorous first lady.

"It is out of the question that we will change anything," Martin said of the controversy surrounding the statue. "The choice was a very good choice."

It was Martin who suggested to sculptor Elizabeth Cibot that she carve Bruni-Sarkozy's face into her statue-in-progress.

Cibot said the statue was originally conceived as a male stone mason. But then it became a woman and the mayor wanted to immortalize the first lady.

Many of his constituents think the choice was made in poor taste.

"I don't see what Carla Bruni is doing here. She's not someone from the area," said one woman. "I don't see any rapport with our town."

Another resident said it would be inappropriate to use Bruni-Sarkozy's face as a symbol of the Italian community.

While many early Italian immigrants to the area toiled in physically demanding jobs for little pay, Bruni-Sarkozy came from a wealthy, connected family.

The statue is expected to be unveiled this spring.

With a report from CTV's London Correspondent Ben O'Hara-Byrne