NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - In the mayor’s office in Naples, a print of revolutionary hero Che Guevara stares out from the wall, surrounded by messages from local schools and bright red horn charms Neapolitans believe bring good luck.
It is a tip of the hat to the rebel spirit that was clearly present in Italy’s third-largest city last Sunday when former prosecutor Luigi de Magistris won a second term with a landslide victory in a run-off ballot.
His triumph highlighted a growing distaste amongst Italians for traditional political parties and an appetite for maverick figures happy to challenge the country’s elite.
De Magistris, 48, campaigned on fierce opposition to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and his success shows how Italy’s central government is losing touch with the south, where many feel that the capital Rome has abandoned them to unemployment, crime and urban decay.
”We want a good relationship (with Rome) but we also want respect,“ de Magistris told Reuters. ”If there is something we don’t like, or that we think breaks the law, or is not transparent, or goes against the interests of the city, we say so, we oppose it.
“It is as though I can be a sort of megaphone,” he added.
Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) suffered setbacks across Italy in Sunday’s second round ballot. It came unstuck in Naples even earlier, scoring too low in the first round even to make the run-off.
The PD was ousted from power in Rome and Turin by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which has ambitions to govern nationally. The 5-Star did poorly in Naples, suggesting it has yet to build a strong, coherent network across the country, but de Magistris, an independent, said it had similar goals to his own.
They shared campaign issues such as fighting privatization of water services, and both stake their appeal on the demand for honesty and transparency in public affairs.
“We are an alternative to free-market, small-state politics. We are against the oligarchies, against murky concentrations of politics, administration and business,” de Magistris said.
Renzi took over as premier in 2014 pledging to demolish old political structures, but he has come to be seen as an ally of big business and his party has been hit by corruption scandals.
De Magistris’s past as a magistrate who investigated links between politicians and organized crime has helped give him a “clean hands” image which he has preserved during his time governing a city notorious for the Camorra mafia. At least 12 people have been killed in mob turf wars this year.
At a seafront campaign event, de Magistris’s supporters praised his bid to make citizens feel involved in running the city by going into neighborhoods to talk to people directly.
“He is the first mayor to do something for the weakest of Naples, the government has done nothing,” said Nicola De Vito, a 65 year-old retired factory worker form nearby Pozzuoli.
Successive governments have failed to close the gap between Italy’s industrialized north, and the far less developed south -- where unemployment is about 20 percent, almost double the rate in the rest of the country.
Renzi unveiled a “masterplan” for the south last year. It included hiring an external commissioner to clean up and develop an abandoned industrial site at Bagnoli in western Naples.
But the plan for the site backfired locally and de Magistris was supported in the district after vociferously objecting to it. Again, residents felt they were not being involved.
“Bagnoli is a piece of the city and should be managed by the city,” said journalist Francesco Andoli, 38.
Smarting from the defeat, Renzi has said his party in the city needs to be put under special administration to clean up its act and re-engage with Naples. But the emotional connection de Magistris has made with his supporters might make this hard.
“The state hasn’t been present in the south for 60 years. You only have to walk the streets of Naples to see that,” said entrepreneur Maurizio Calcagno, 46.
“Even with the marginal powers a mayor has, de Magistris has brought pride back to Naples.”
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer/Jeremy Gaunt