April 29, 2008

Earthquake in Rome

Gianni AlemannoSo they lost Rome to the invaders—“the black tide,” as Democratic Party candidate mayor Francesco Rutelli used to put it in his last, unsuccessful calls to arms to his fellow citizens. And now not only will Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives rule Italy—after their overwhelming victory on April 13-14 national election—but they will also rule the Eternal City. A former Rome mayor—he ran the capital for between 1993 and 2001—Rutelli was also deputy prime minister and culture minister in the outgoing centre-left government led by Romano Prodi. Which makes the defeat all the more painful.

A former youth leader of far-right Italian Social Movement—the now defunct party from which National Alliance was born, which in turn is now part of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party—, Gianni Alemanno, the new mayor of Rome (see profile here), took 53.6 per cent with a remarkable turnaround after an initial ballot in which he had taken 40.7 per cent and his competitor 45.8.

“We have carried out a true political miracle,” said Alemanno when he started his victory speech in the Capitol Square. And there is no doubt that this is so, and that Berlusconi’s “enthusiastic thank you to the voters in Rome” for “this historic victory of Alemanno, for the first time making the People of Freedom leader of the Italian capital” couldn’t be more justified. “This success—he added—completes our victory on April 13-14 and is stimulating for the commitment expected of the government of Italy in a period that is not easy from an economical point of view, and there for even more exciting”. Once more, there is no question about that.

Paradoxically, Berlusconi is hailing the victory of a man who is the exact contrary of the kind of politician of which both Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni (as well as Rutelli himself) are highly representative—Alemanno is no eloquent and inspiring speaker nor a consummate political performer with the ability to empathise with ordinary people, he does not look like he is that concerned with cultivating his own image. He has also won praise, even on the centre-left, for his low-key, moderate style. Even his education profile—he has a degree in environmental engineering—seems to go against the mainstream, suggesting much more a technocratic rather than a mediatic approach and phenomenon. And that’s why, perhaps, he won, or better still Rutelli and Veltroni, that is the outgoing mayor of Rome, lost.

Veltroni, in fact, has never been one to shy away from the spotlight. So, when in January 2006 the then mayor made his official announcement of first Rome Film Fest, his opponents argued that his devotion to culture had come at the expense of attention to more pressing issues, such as pollution, crushing traffic problems, a sprawling periphery, a large inflow of illegal immigrants—and related public safety issues—as well as the upkeep of the city’s monuments, to name but a few. I guess Romans must have thought that way, too. I think they consequently voted for change.

Alemanno campaigned on the same issues that helped Berlusconi defeat Prodi in national elections pledging to reinforce law and order and crack down on crime and illegal immigrants. Rutelli and his allies tried to deprive these proposals by playing the card of anti-fascism, of the upcoming “black tide,” but this time Romans didn’t trust them.

The day after the earthquake, commenting on the results of the second ballot, Walter Veltroni wrote in a note that

the defeat of Rome will ask for, starting in the coming hours, a serious analysis involving all, thinking about the difference in national and local results. I believe the political climate in the country has had its impact on local elections, particularly regarding security.


Let’s hope the upcoming analysis will actually be serious and all involving. Let’s also hope that Veltroni will successfully face his internal opponents. He may have made some mistakes, but he is still the best choice for the Democratic Party. Which says it all.



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