This week I’ve being playing political hopscotch. Because the political playground in Italy is one of quickly forged alliances and easily dashed friendships, it is dizzying to keep up with who is in whose gang and who is no longer friendly with whom. It’s not in Italy’s nature to have a nice clean two-party system, and everyone, but everyone, wants to be the coolest kid in school.
So why bother? Florence is currently in the midst of election fever. The city will be going to the polls to nominate a new mayor on June 6 and 7, and I’ve been waving my little green flag and finding out about the candidates’ environmental priorities.
Before I begin, a quick note about political correctness and Par-Condicio: the candidates are listed here in alphabetical order, not in the order I met them and not necessarily in order of nicest smile, cleanest fingernails or most famous celebrity endorsement. I met Alfonso Bonafede (Lista Cinque Stelle) in his chaotic office in via Puccinotti. Between fielding phone calls and firing off emails from a computer buried under a pile of files, he explained that environmental concerns underpin all his policies. In more solid terms, this basically means less concrete and more investment in alternative energies. He was just buzzing with green ideas, such as reducing the bureaucracy involved in installing solar panels.
The plush Teatro della Pergola provided the perfect setting for my meeting with the gentlemanly Marco Carraresi (UDC). In the hushed interior of the theatre he questioned the need to have the main bus lines clogging the streets and air in the centre when they could pass around the city instead and smaller, eco-buses could ferry people in and out. He also mentioned a campaign to raise awareness about recycling.
I briefly spoke to Giovanni Galli (PDL) at a social club where he was fielding questions from an excited public in the Brozzi district. The room was like a sauna, and he must have been mighty hot in those tight jeans. He talked about cleaning up the city, including its public parks, and improving public transport from the outskirts into the centre to reduce traffic. He is very tall, by the way.
Time constraints meant interviewing Maria Lascialfari (Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori) on the phone. One of her top eco-policies is to encourage supermarkets to reduce packaging. Striking at the source, you might say. To reduce smog, she mentioned organising a cheap, efficient park-and-ride system for commuters. I had a coffee with Paolo Poggi (Popolo Cittt Nazione) who also suggested a park-and-ride system, proving that the far-right and far-left have at least one thing in common. He supports the idea of constructing an underground to reduce traffic. He would like to clean up the city’s green spaces and make parks like the Cascine home to sporting, music and other events.
The charming Mario Razzanelli (Lista Firenze C”) was on the campaign trail at Villa Corsini with the famous Vittorio Sgarbi when I met him. He was emphatic about not cutting down any more trees for the tram and mentioned a rubbish collection system similar to that in Switzerland, where citizens pay more or less depending on how much and what kind of rubbish they produce.
Matteo Renzi (Partito Democratico, Comunisti Fiorentini, Sinistra per Firenze,Italia dei Valori, Facce Nuove a Palazzo Vecchio, and Lista Renzi) spoke to me on an oppressively hot day in the Cascine park, after he’d been up in a hot air balloon, shaken about 2,000 hands and played football with a little boy while photographers snapped away. His plans include creating hydroelectricity from the Arno, constructing more energy-efficient buildings and teaching children about eco-sustainability.
Valdo Spini (Lista Spini per Firenze, Sinistra per la Costituzione, Alleanza dei cittadini, Rifondazione, Movimento dei Repubblicani europei, Pdci, Verdi) met me in his busy campaign headquarters. He conducted the whole interview in English, which caught me totally off guard and allowed me to relax about using Lei or tu. He talked about creating a proper network of cycle paths and introducing something like the VVlib bike rental system in Paris. He’d boost the city’s green areas by developing the Parco della Piana.
It was at a very intellectual talk about the role of democracy with Professor Paul Ginsborg in Villa Grifoni that I had a chance to speak to Ornella de Zordo (Perunaltracittt). Her bubbly enthusiasm is contagious. She explained that she would double pre-existing cycle paths increase eco-friendly public transport and also mentioned a last-minute market, where people could buy almost out-of-date but perfectly edible produce that supermarkets normally throw away.
I asked some of the candidates how green they are personally, but the answers were disappointingly vague. Several mentioned recycling and riding bikes, although I’ve yet to see a politician pedalling to avoid a lurching number 28 on pothole-filled via Alamanni. Maria Lascialfari, who takes plastic containers and paper bags to the market to re-use them ((even if people look at me like I’m mad’), came out on top in the informal poll. It’s been a fascinating week, and if just two or three of the ideas I heard about were put in practice, Florence would be a much greener city. I also learned several lessons about politics: (1) some politicians stand very close to you when they talk and some should think about getting some chewing gum; (2) potential mayors have to smile constantly, which must be; and (3) chasing politicians is a great way to remind yourself of everything Florence has to offer, from Renaissance villas to leafy avenues, from velvety theatres to verdant parks.
The candidate who becomes mayor will have a lot to look after in this lovely city, and environmental policies are just one part of it. All the candidates have eco-friendly ideas as part of their campaigns and of course, when questioned, nobody suggested cementing over the Cascine or putting a car park between the Duomo and the Baptistery. Also, as the expression goes, fra il dire e il fare c” di mezzo il mare. In other words, there’s an ocean of difference between what someone says they’ll do and what they actually do (or are able to do). I suspect the best policy, as always, is not to wait for direction from on high, but for people to continue to take the initiative ourselves.