Putting the squeeze on the squeegee

Crackdown sparks nationwide debate

Editorial Staff
September 6, 2007

After a short summer break from controversial municipal politics, Florence’s feisty safety superintendent, Graziano Cioni, is back to work, ready to carry out his promise to bring the decorum back to ‘a city in decline’. His next target? The squeegee.


Dubbed ‘the sheriff’ of Florence in past weeks, Cioni’s first move after the summer was to outlaw squeegees at traffic intersections. Transgressors will get three months in jail or a fine of up to 200 euro. Less than 24 hours after the law was enacted by the city council, police had made as many as 15 arrests. Other squeegeers fled their streetcorner posts.


News of Cioni’s tough legislation and its successful enforcement quickly traveled the country.  Rome, Turin and Milan are already debating whether the crackdown should be adopted nationwide. If the local response about the ordinance is any indication, the debate should be heated and fierce.


Cioni argues that the phenomenon had become a security risk. Insistent washers were harassing motorists, and in some cases extorting money, particularly from unaccompanied women drivers and the elderly. Also, citizen complaints had significantly increased in past months: ‘There have been numerous cases of arguments and even fights breaking out at traffic lights. Motorists complain that the washers have become more aggressive, especially with women alone in their cars’, Cioni said.


When accused of targeting the poor and the homeless, the left-wing councilor responded, ‘We are not targeting poor people and beggars. This is a response to the arrogance and belligerence of many washers towards motorists who don’t give them as much as they want’.


Citizens applaud the controversial legislation. A survey reported by www.quotidiano.net showed 89.25 percent of those questioned to be in favor of the ordinance. A similar poll conducted by Sky TV indicated that 78 percent of those interviewed approved the move to outlaw the squeegee.


Florence’s mayor, Leonardo Domenici, supported the ordinance, viewing it as a preventive strike against a social nuisance before it becomes a criminal problem. City councilors favoring the controversial ordinance affirmed that the ban would effectively combat the ever-growing criminal racket that is believed to control and exploit the squeegee-wielding men, women and children.


Councilors from the far right fiercely contested the move and argued that it solely targets impoverished squeegeers, typically poor immigrants stationed at traffic lights who clean motorists’ dirty windshields in exchange for a few coins. Local members of the hard-left Communist Refoundation Party said that ‘the council has gone over the top here. This goes against a Florence tradition of welcoming and accepting people, whoever they are and wherever they come from’.  Added leftist politician Ornella De Zordo, ‘This is a shocking ban which punishes people who have no other way to survive and I can’t believe a left-wing council would do such a thing’.  Human rights groups nationwide have already expressed discontent with Florence’s controversial decree.

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