Gay anti-mafia politician breaks mold in Sicily

Mon Nov 12, 2012 12:48pm EST
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By Barry Moody

ROME (Reuters) - Openly gay, devoutly Catholic, left-wing and an enemy of the mafia, Rosario Crocetta broke the mould when he was elected governor of deeply conservative Sicily last month.

The island has long been better known for its machismo, corruption and homicidal mafia dons than progressive politics, but the chain-smoking former communist says he will bring a "revolution" after winning a regional 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 told Reuters in an interview.

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 a seven-year jail term after being convicted on similar charges.

Crocetta said he planned a raft 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 governor after Nichi Vendola in Puglia, seeing no conflict with his strong beliefs as a gospel-quoting Roman Catholic.

He sees his election as part of a general movement by Italian voters against a deeply unpopular and discredited traditional political class.

Crocetta made his name as leader for six years of the mob-infested city of Gela on Sicily's southwest coast, where he backed an "anti-racket" organisation of businessmen who refused to pay "pizzo" or extortion money - a leading source of revenue for a local mob known as the Stidda.   Continued...

File photo of new Sicily governor Rosario Crocetta taken during an interview in Rome November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi