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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Italy’s Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her allies on Tuesday began what is set to be a weeks-long process of forming a new government, with crises looming on several fronts.

Italy's Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, which triumphed in Sunday’s elections, has no experience of power but must assemble a cross-party team to tackle sky-high inflation and energy prices, and relations with a wary Europe.

The 45-year-old is hoping to be the first woman to lead Italy as prime minister, but needs her allies, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party and former Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, for a majority in parliament.

The division of the top jobs – notably economy, foreign affairs, the defence and interior ministries – will always be political but now, more than ever, “will have to reflect areas of expertise”, the Stampa daily noted.

President Sergio Mattarella will begin consultations on who should lead the new government only once the Senate and Chamber presidents have been elected by parliament, which meets on October 13th.

In the past, it has taken anything between four and 12 weeks for a new administration to take office.

But the first deadline for action is coming up fast, with Italy due to submit its draft plan for next year’s budget to Brussels by October 15th.

READ ALSO: The five biggest challenges facing Italy’s new government

The parties have said they want to make major changes, with a manifesto promising to slash taxes, roll back welfare, and “revise” the terms of Italy’s recovery fund agreement with Brussels – potentially putting the rest of the deal, worth a total of almost 200 billion euros to Italy, at risk.

EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said he urged “the next Italian government to ensure that this opportunity is seized”, saying the fund was key to putting Italy on a path to “strong and durable growth”.

Agnese Ortolani, senior Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said she expected Meloni “to continue to reassure the markets by picking a non-controversial figure for the role of finance minister”.

“She will also want to avoid reputational damage by nominating someone who is not perceived as credible by the markets,” she said in a note.

READ ALSO: Doubts rise over ‘loose cannon’ Salvini after Italy’s election

Meloni’s allies have been pitching for heavyweight positions, Salvini wanting his old job as interior minister back, and Berlusconi eyeing president of the Senate.

Their parties’ disappointing performance in the polls, however, with neither reaching 10 percent while Brothers of Italy’s secured 26 percent, means Meloni may already be planning to sideline them.

League leader Matteo Salvini (L) and Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni are set to form a government together following the election. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Salvini and Berlusconi do not see eye-to-eye with Meloni on several fronts, including on Russia and public spending to relieve the cost of living crisis.

With all the potential friction ahead, winning the elections “was almost the easy part”, commented Luciano Fontana, chief editor of the Corriere della Sera daily.

Berlusconi downplayed concerns he would rock the boat Tuesday, claiming his party was ready to make compromises “in the country’s interests”.

His ally Antonio Tajani, a former European parliament president, is tipped as possible foreign minister, an appointment which could both appease Berlusconi and assuage international fears that Meloni’s Eurosceptic populist party plans to pick fights with Brussels.

Salvini may prove more difficult. He is currently on trial for allegedly abusing his powers as interior minister in 2019 to block migrants at sea, which some say could rule him out returning to the job.

“It won’t be an easy relationship. It’s likely that (Salvini) will be given a more marginal role in the government than he wants,” Sofia Ventura, political sciences professor at Bologna University, told the foreign press association in Rome.

“Defusing Salvini” without sparking a backlash that could weaken the government is “Meloni’s first test”, the Repubblica daily said.