Trading Art for Politics, Former Uffizi Chief Runs for Mayor of Florence

It was only midmorning, and Eike Schmidt was already way off schedule.

As he strolled to an appointment at a market in Florence, Italy, well-wishers repeatedly stopped him to shake his hand, take a selfie or share a gripe, further upsetting his timetable.

“All of Florence is my natural habitat and has been for years,” said Schmidt, who, after being the first foreigner to run the city’s storied Uffizi Galleries, is now trying to pull off another coup and become the first foreigner to govern Florence itself. Born in Germany, Schmidt became an Italian citizen last November, which made him eligible to run.

“My idea is not so much now to become a politician, but really become a manager of the city,” bringing in the “ideas and experiences” he harvested running one of the world’s major museums, he said. “That’s quite different from all the professional politicians that we’ve had in the past decades in Florence,” Schmidt added.

His campaign slogan — “Firenze Magnifica,” or “Magnificent Florence” — suggests a Florence returned to its Renaissance glory, when the city was a renowned artistic and intellectual hub. As mayor, Schmidt said, he would aim to bring back “the splendor” of the epoch when the Medici family and its successors ruled the city.

It may not be a coincidence that the slogan brings to mind Donald J. Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”

Schmidt is running as the candidate backed by a coalition of right-wing parties, which includes center-right groups as well as those of the far right, like the League and the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, the party of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. His allies are hoping that Schmidt’s cultural bona fides can broaden his appeal to end decades of center-left rule in Florence.

Schmidt prefers to say that he is a grass-roots candidate who had no political ambitions until people began stopping him on the street during his stint at the Uffizi to urge him to run for mayor.

He has tried to dullen his association with the hard right by pointing out that he is running as an independent with a grouping on the ticket that consists mostly of candidates without previous political affiliation. Rather than pick political stripes, he refers to himself as “an Aristotelian.”

But to win, he needs the support of the hard-right parties, and his platform is heavy on law and order. On a busy day on the campaign trail last week, between canapé lunches with donors and soapboxing in historic squares and street markets, Schmidt repeatedly pledged to bring “security and decorum” to the city.

Not everyone sees tackling crime as a major priority. What is really at risk nowadays, said Laura Conti, from the citizen’s group perUnaltracittà (For Another City), is Florence’s social fabric, because a dearth of housing, and the high cost of what little there is, is forcing residents to leave the city. This is one consequence of the huge number of tourists who come to the city, driving up prices and “inexorably” changing the nature of Florence, she said.

Schmidt said he wanted to get tourists out of the city center to visit lesser-known areas of Florence. He also vowed to better develop city parks, building on his experience at the Boboli Gardens, which are administered by the Uffizi and whose revamp he kicked off.

Schmidt’s campaign fliers also focus on shutting out fast-food outlets in favor of traditional cuisine, and finding alternatives to the city’s trams, whose ongoing construction is clogging up the traffic. (Schmidt would like to see a subway, he said.)

Yet polls and political analysts suggest that the odds are stacked against him. Historically, Florence has been a center-left bastion; for now, it is a holdout in Tuscany, once known as a “red region” for its leftist leanings, where key cities have shifted to the right.

“Florence has always had important values as an antifascist city,” said Sara Funaro, of the center-left Democratic Party, who is running against Schmidt. He “may present himself as a civic candidate, but there’s no denying that he’s backed” by hard-right parties, Funaro said.

Under Italian law for municipal elections, if no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held, most likely pitting Funaro against Schmidt.

In recent years, municipal elections have been volatile, said Alessandro Chiaramonte, a professor of political science at the University of Florence. Infighting among the center-left could work in favor of Schmidt, whose “civic profile” might well appeal to a centrist electorate that “would not vote for any right-wing candidate but who might be willing to vote for him,” Chiaramonte said.

Should Schmidt’s political ambitions fail, he actually has a job to get back to: He is now on leave as director of the Capodimonte in Naples, a former royal villa turned national museum, a job that he began in January.

Schmidt’s decision last month to take a hiatus to run for mayor was not taken well by lawmakers in Naples. Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Campania region, of which Naples is the capital, said he considered Schmidt’s decision “offensive for culture, for Naples and for Campania.” Naples’ mayor, Gaetano Manfredi, said he was “perplexed,” and some local pundits urged Schmidt to resign from his museum post.

Schmidt retorted that the griping in Naples was coming from center-left politicians. Though he wasn’t currently making decisions for the Capodimonte, he was in daily contact with his staff at the museum, he said, who kept him informed about what was going on there.

Besides, for now, his attention is focused on Florence, and his campaign.

Out and about on the stump, Schmidt was all smiles and aplomb. “You’re so tall,” said a woman who had come over to shake the hand of the candidate — who is 6-foot-2 — on a leafy street in one the city’s residential area where locals seemed to be especially worked up over the new tram lines. He smiled politely. A man on a motorcycle drove by and gave Schmidt a thumbs up. “Vote for me,” Schmidt called back, beaming.

But Lucio Nugnes, a former fencing coach, was not so pliant. He accosted Schmidt on the street to say that his family had suffered in World War II and that he would never vote for a German backed by parties with fascist roots.

“It’s something that Germany must be ashamed of for centuries,” Schmidt said of his country’s role in the war, adding that he had always been against fascism. The encounter ended with the two men shaking hands.

Later, Schmidt spoke about that exchange. “We talked, and he said, ‘This is my position,’ and I said, ‘This is mine, and we’re not going to be arriving at the same conclusions today. But I respect you and you respect me,’” he said. “This is living democracy.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *