ROSARIO Crocetta broke the mould when elected regional president of the deeply conservative Italian island of Sicily last month.
For Mr Crocetta is an openly gay man, a devout Catholic and left-winger who is a sworn enemy of organised crime in a part of Italy infamous for its machismo, corruption and homicidal mafiosi.
The chain-smoking former Communist has vowed to start a “revolution” since winning the top job in last month’s election.
“I will demonstrate that this region can be the most liberal in Europe. Certainly I will be exposed to opposition from the old political system, to layers of powerful mafia patronage, but I am ready for the battle,” he said in an interview this week.
Mr Crocetta, 61, who has escaped at least three mafia assassination plots and was elected to the European parliament in 2009, could not be more of a contrast to his predecessors, under whom Sicily has come close to bankruptcy.
He replaces Raffaele Lombardo, who stepped down in July after being charged with mafia association. The previous regional president, Salvatore Cuffaro, is serving seven years after being convicted on similar charges.
Mr Crocetta said he planned a series of anti-mob measures as well as boosting gay and other civil rights. He was Italy’s first openly gay mayor and is now its second declared homosexual regional president after Nichi Vendola in Puglia, seeing no conflict with his strong beliefs as a Gospel-quoting Catholic. He sees his election as part of a general movement against a deeply unpopular and discredited traditional political class.
Mr Crocetta made his name as mayor of the mafia infested southwestern Sicilian city of Gela. There he backed an anti-mob group of businessmen who refused to pay extortion money, or pizzo, to local hoods.
“During my time as mayor, 150 businessmen were reporting extortion attempts and 850 mafiosi and extortionists were arrested, which is an impressive figure,” he said, at the Rome headquarters of his centre-left Democratic Party on Monday, surrounded by his permanent police guard, with two patrol cars parked outside.
Asked if he feared for his life, he laughed: “I am very serene. I am a sunny person, I like life, I am happy or … gay.”
He even quoted legendary anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, who was assassinated in 1992: “If you are scared you die every day. If you are not scared, you die only once.”
He said the mafia hated him because he choked off public contracts to them, and fired mafiosi, including the wife of a boss. He also exposed businessmen linked to the mob. In 2003, a hit was ordered by one boss who was heard in a wire tap calling him, “that queer Communist”.
As Sicily’s president he plans to vet all firms seeking public contracts to create a “white list” of those untainted by the mafia and he plans a task force to assist victims of the mob.
“This is a novelty in Italy. If I make it easy to denounce the mafia and corruption, people will denounce it. I want a series of measures to control contracts, supplies, land sales. It will be a storm of measures,” he said.
“When denouncing the mafia is a mass movement it is difficult for it to have [deadly] repercussions. There are repercussions when it is solitary.”