The New York mayor with Italian roots

A small town near Naples erupted in celebration this week after the election of Italian-American Bill de Blasio as New York mayor, so much so the town is going to grant him honorary citizenship. The Local finds out why.

The New York mayor with Italian roots
Bill de Blasio's grandfather emigrated from Italy to the US. Photo: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio

Who is Bill de Blasio?

Bill de Blasio is a 52-year-old Italian-American, and on Tuesday he was elected mayor of New York with over 73 per cent of the vote.

And why is he causing such a stir in Sant'Agata de' Goti?

The mountain village in the Benevento region was the hometown of De Blasio's grandather. Along with many others from the region, he emigrated to America in search of a better life almost a century ago, but De Blasio still has some family there.

The town came out in strong support of the mayoral candidate, with posters 'Forza Bill!' plastered across the town. The mayor expressed his pride, saying, “It is obvious that he hasn't forgotten his roots. He has brought prestige to our town."

"We consider him a fellow citizen here,” a spokesman for the town council said. De Blasio is even going to be granted honorary citizenship. "His choice to name his children Chiara and Dante shows his link with Italy. He really is a son of this land," he added.

On Tuesday night an election party was held in the town's former cinema to follow the results live from across the Atlantic. The victory was celebrated with local Falanghina spumante and fireworks. The festivities are set to continue through the week.

How has De Blasio retained links to his Italian heritage?

During his time as a junior staffer for New York City’s first African-American mayor, David N. Dinkins, De Blasio would bring his mother’s eggplant parmesan and Italian bread into the office to feed the campaign staff. He also frequently holidays in Italy with his wife and children.

In his victory speech, he made sure to thank his Italian family and friends in Rome, Grassano and Sant'Agata di Goti, announcing to them, "I say grazie a tutti!”

Who else did De Blasio receive support from?

De Blasio earned praise from President Barrack Obama for his commitment to an economy which helps even the poorest New Yorkers, and received endorsement from other famous faces including actors Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon.

His family has also been crucial to the campaign. De Blasio is married to African-American writer and political speechwriter Chirlane McCray, who played an important part in the campaign through public speeches and Twitter. However, it was his 16-year-old son son Dante who stole the show with his impressive afro, after starring in one of De Blasio's ad campaigns. After being elected, de Blasio thanked his wife and “stylish” children.

 What have been De Blasio's political achievements so far?

He began his career in public service as a junior staffer for New York City’s first African-American mayor, David N. Dinkins, and this is where he met his wife, Chirlane. After working as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2000 race for Senate, he spent eight years on the City Council and in 2009 was elected Public Advocate.

He was named 'Italian of the Year' by IL, a high-end Italian magazine, earlier this year, which also tipped him to become New York mayor.

Now he's won the mayoral election, what's next on the agenda?

The first Democrat-elected mayor in 24 years, he has promised a programme of progressive change, with the slogan “no New Yorker will be left behind.” He referred to the inequality of New York as “a tale of two cities” due to the gulf between the rich and poor, and his policies champion the rights of the middle and working classes. His signature proposal is to raise taxes on the highest-earning New Yorkers and increase access to early childhood education, employment and housing.

De Blasio spoke of how New York has been synonymous with opportunity for many immigrants, perhaps with his own grandfather in mind, and expressed a desire to make this the case once more. He has already put plans in place for helping immigrants with free language lessons and tackling discrimination at work.

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Italy defies virus for vote as far-right hopes to retake regions

Italians head to the polls on Sunday -- to the alarm of coronavirus experts -- for a referendum and regional elections that could weaken the government and radically reshape the political landscape.

Italy defies virus for vote as far-right hopes to retake regions
La Lega leader Matteo Salvini (hand raised) next to Susanna Ceccardi, the Tuscany candidate for the right-wing coalition. Photo: Carlo Bressan/AFP
Just a week after a Herculean effort by schools to reopen in line with last-minute Covid-19 rules, classrooms across the country will be shut to pupils and transformed into ballot stations for the two-day vote.
A triumph for the far-right in this fiercely fought campaign would sound alarm bells in Brussels.
It will be the first test for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's centre-left coalition government since it imposed an economically crippling nationwide lockdown to fight the virus, which has killed almost 36,000 people.
The referendum, on slashing the number of members of parliament — from 630 to 400 in the lower house, and 315 to 200 in the upper house — is expected to pass, though there has been a late uptick in the number of prominent 'no' declarations.
The cost-cutting reform is the brainchild of the co-governing Five Star Movement (M5S), but while its centre-left coalition Democratic Party (PD) partner and parties on the right are theoretically in favour, their support has been lacklustre at best.
Uncertain future
The regional battle is for governance of Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d'Aosta and Veneto.
The right-wing coalition is set to easily retake Veneto and Liguria, and it could also snatch Marche and Puglia from the left.
But all eyes will be on Tuscany, a historic left-wing stronghold that might fall to Matteo Salvini's far-right League.
“If the left performs particularly poorly… Brussels will grow concerned,” Berenberg economist Florian Hense told AFP.
It will worry whether the national recovery plan Italy has to present to obtain grants or loans to aid its ailing economy after the coronavirus lockdown “will be ambitious enough, given the limited political capital of the coalition in Rome,” he said.
“And whether, whatever plan Italy comes up with, it will actually implement it given the uncertain future of the current coalition”.
Concern over virus
The poll is going ahead despite warnings against opening polling stations while Covid-19 case numbers are on the rise.
While Italy currently has fewer new cases than Britain, France or Spain, it is still recording more than 1,500 daily.
“The country is in a state of emergency; it is utterly contradictory to be massing people together at polling stations, particularly in light of the trend in Europe,” Professor Massimo Galli, infectious diseases chief at Milan's Sacco hospital, told AFP.
He said previously that holding the elections now would be “madness”. Some precautions have been taken however, with elderly and pregnant voters getting fast-track lanes to vote.
With older people potentially put off voting by the health risks, the left has been organising special transport.
One in three of voters for the PD and League are over 65-years old, according to Italy's Corriere della Sera daily.
Nearly 2,000 voters in isolation due to the coronavirus have also registered to have their votes collected, including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
But fear of catching the virus from voters obliged to pull down their masks to allow them to be identified has seen a flurry of last-minute desertions by polling station volunteers.
Milan was forced Saturday to call urgently for 100 fresh pairs of hands.
Prime Minister Conte has clinched a behind-doors deal with PD leader Nicola Zingaretti to fight to save each other's political skins should the left should perform disastrously, according to the Repubblica daily.
That might not be enough.
“These elections are not going to topple the government,” Political commentator Barbara Fiammeri for Italy's Sole 24 Ore daily told AFP.
“But there could well be a crisis, whether it be Conte's fall, the forming of new coalition, or even a national unity government”.