From pioneering medic to Mayor of Rome

He's renowned for his pioneering work in medicine – including the first baboon-to-human liver transplant and Italy's first organ transplant on an HIV positive patient. As if that weren’t enough, this week Ignazio Marino was elected Mayor of Rome.

From pioneering medic to Mayor of Rome
Ignazio Marino celebrates after being elected new mayor of Rome on June 10th, 2013 in Rome. Photo: Beatrice di Caro/AFP

Who is Ignazio Marino?

He’s a 58-year-old former transplant surgeon and centre-left politician. On Monday, he was elected Mayor of Rome – displacing Gianni Alemanno, his former neo-fascist predecessor, in a landslide victory despite low voter turnout.

Tell me more.

For a Mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino has spent surprisingly little of his life in the capital city. Marino was in fact born in Genoa, north-west Italy, and moved to Rome at the age of 14.

After completing a bachelors degree in Medicine and Surgery at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, he did further studies at the University of Cambridge in England and at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States.

While in America, he helped perform the first baboon-to-human liver transplant. In Rome in 2001, he conducted the first organ transplant in Italy on a patient who was HIV positive, causing much controversy.

“The patient still lives an excellent quality of life today, and the operation has opened up new treatment possibilities in Italy for patients with HIV,” writes the Mayor on his personal website.

While working in the US at Jefferson College, the Italian medic once again made surgical history by achieving the highest survival rate for liver transplant patients in the entire country.

What about his politics?

Marino finally returned to Rome for good in 2006 – which, unsurprisingly, he describes as “the city I love most in the world”.

According to media reports, it was his friend, Massimo D’Alema, the then Deputy Prime Minister, who persuaded him to enter politics. Subsequently Marino obtained a seat in the Italian senate as an independent candidate for the Italian democratic party.

In the years that followed, he worked on health committees and campaigned for issues including euthanasia. He also denounced the treatment of patients in psychiatric hospital prisons – and was instrumental in their closure.

In 2009, Marino was a contender for the leadership of the Democratic Party and is now Mayor.

How’s his new job going so far?

He managed to hit the morning headlines on his very first day as mayor when he cycled to work on his bicycle. But, judging from a video (see below) of his progress, this wasn’t the most practical way for him to travel through the city, as a throng of supporters obliged him to slow down to a snail’s pace.

Not that this seemed to worry him. “The bike ride? It was great!” the new Mayor told reporters as he dismounted from his bike to enter Rome City Hall.

But it hasn't all been a smooth ride for the new Mayor. Yesterday he released a statement after an ambulance crew was attacked by an angry crowd of onlookers following a road-rage incident in Rome.

“We cannot allow such serious incidents to occur in our city, especially when men and women, who provide assistance to those in need, are brutally attacked,” he said.

What does he plan to do for Rome?

Judging from his campaign website, quite a lot.

“I dream…of a city that works, with a transparent management that makes the lives of the people that live here easier, safer and faster. An international city that increases opportunities for all,” writes the Mayor on his website.

Top on his to-do list is addressing Rome’s notorious traffic and public transport problems. Yesterday it was reported that he intended to begin by turning the notoriously traffic-clogged Via dei Fori Imperiali near the Colosseum into a pedestrian area.

What do Romans think of him?

Why don’t we start with a quote from one of his nearest and dearest, his Swiss-born mother, Valeria Mazzanti who has also made the capital her home. On the day her son was elected mayor, she told us she was “very happy”.

This week, The Local also took to the streets to talk to ordinary Roman citizens about whom they intended to vote for.

For Ornella, a Rome-born banker, it was her concern for the city’s environment and public transport that pushed her to vote for Marino.

“Marino is completely different from Alemanno; he is more concerned about nature. Rome has some beautiful parks but they’re not being properly taken care of,” she said.

But not all voters – even those on the left – were so optimistic. Giulio, a restaurant worker from Calabria who’s lived in Rome for many years, admitted that he’d voted for Marino in the first round in May because he thought “he could be the person to make things more equal”.

However, he said he wouldn’t be voting in the final round, claiming that Italians have lost their way in politics.  

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Who can vote in Italy’s elections?

With Italy's next general election scheduled for September 25th, who is eligible to vote - and how can those who are do so?

Who can vote in Italy's elections?

Who can vote in Italy?

For the upcoming election in September, the answer is simple: only Italian citizens are eligible to vote in Italy’s general elections.

Foreign EU nationals who are resident in Italy can register to vote in municipal and European parliamentary elections, but national elections are reserved for Italians only.

Until recently, not even all Italian adults could participate fully in the process: just last year, voters needed to be over the age of 25 to take part in senate elections.

That finally changed with a reform passed by parliament in July 2021. It’s now the case that any citizen over the age of 18 can vote for their representatives in both the lower house and the senate (both ballots are held at the same time).

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

You don’t need to be resident in Italy to vote; Italian citizens living abroad can register to vote via post.

In fact, Italy is unusual in assigning a set number of MPs and senators to ‘overseas constituencies’ that represent the interests of Italians abroad.

These constituencies are split into four territories: a) Europe; b) South America; c) Northern and Central America; d) Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica. Each zone gets at least one MP and one senator, with the others distributed in proportion to the number of Italian residents.

Up until recently, there were as many as 12 MPs and six senators dedicated to overseas constituencies. This will drop to eight MPs and four senators from September, thanks to another reform enacted in late 2020.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

How can you vote?

While Italy has a postal vote option for citizens living abroad, Italians resident in Italy must vote in the town in which they are registered to vote (i.e., their comune, or municipality of residency), at the specific polling station assigned to them.

What's behind Italy's declining voter turnout?

Italian citizens who are resident in Italy can only vote in person. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

The lack of a postal vote for Italians in Italy is thought to be one of the main factors behind Italy’s declining turnout in elections, and a parliamentary committee on elections has advised introducing one to help remedy the situation; but for now, only in-person votes count.

READ ALSO: What’s behind the decline in Italian voter turnout?

Italians living abroad who are on the electoral register should receive their ballot papers (pink for the Chamber of Deputies, yellow for the senate) from their consulate in the lead up to the election. Their completed ballots must arrive back at the consulate no later than 4pm local time on September 22nd.

Those who haven’t received their ballot papers by September 11th should contact their consulate to request that the documents be resent.

Italians in Italy must have a tessera elettorale, or voter’s card, to be allowed to vote in person. The card contains the holder’s full name, date of birth, address and polling station. Every time the holder goes to vote, the card – which takes the form of a piece of reinforced folded paper – is stamped.

The tessera elettorale should be automatically sent out to Italians at their home address when they reach the age of 18; for those who acquire citizenship and move to Italy later in life, it should be automatically sent to their address by the comune where they are registered as a resident.

If the tessera gets lost, damaged, or becomes filled up with stamps, the holder should request a new card from their comune. 

When an individual moves towns, they should turn in their tessera in order to receive a new one from their new comune. For those who move house but stay in the same town, their comune should send an official slip confirming the new address that can be used to update their tessera.

Anyone who hasn’t automatically received a tessera elettorale and is entitled to one should contact their comune to claim theirs.