by Carl Russo
Only the biggest Mafia stories get the Time magazine news splash, so I was surprised to read, “Italy Dismisses Entire City Government over Suspected Mafia Ties.” The forced breakup of a regional capitol city—in this case, Reggio Calabria, the toenail in the Italian boot—is news, but not of the earth-shattering variety. With a population of 185,000, Reggio (as the locals call it) isn't much bigger than Providence, Rhode Island, or Knoxville, Tennessee.
On the island of Sicily alone, forty-four municipalities have been dissolved by the Interior Ministry for reasons of Mafia infiltration since 1991. My own list of such cities covers the last five years or so: Belmonte Mazzagno, Castellammare del Golfo, Roccamena, Salemi, Siculiana, and Terme Vigliatore.
And a list of cities whose leaders were investigated and/or arrested: Carini, Misilmeri, Palagonia, Palermo, and Villabate.
The aforementioned Roccamena is a typical Sicilian town, isolated from the others by vast plains of yellow barren fields. Its peaceful tangle of streets betray a turbulent past. Peasants there fought the Mafia’s brutal estate managers for the right to work the land. Nobel Peace Prize-nominated activist Danilo Dolci staged hunger strikes over construction jobs that drew news cameras to its tiny piazza.
I went to Roccamena in 2006, months after its mayor, Giuseppe Salvatore Gambino, was arrested for Mafia association along with Bartolomeo Cascio, the capomafia of the area. Despite a pistol found in Gambino’s desk, which he denied was his, and some incriminating phone taps, the ex-mayor was eventually absolved, avoiding a stiff ten-year sentence. I managed to snap a photo of the city hall before the Chief of Police stepped out of the building to stop me.
A year after my visit, the carabiniere put the town on notice for persistent absenteeism at city hall. Civil servants had been spotted strolling the town, shopping and even working out on government time. Among them were two police officers. I’d love to know whether one of them was my vigilant friend, the chief.
Higher up the political food chain, Salvatore “Totò” Cuffaro was let out of his cage near Rome Wednesday on a quick six-hour furlough to visit his ailing papà in the old country. The former Sicilian governor and his prison entourage jetted down to the backwater of Raffadali, where he was greeted with applause. Then again, the Italians clap at funerals.
Moderate politico Antonio Di Pietro observed, “Sicily is a land that has experienced the anomaly of its last two governors. One who goes to visit his parents on leave is received by cheers that reflect the pride of having a governor end up in jail…. And then [Rafaelle Lombardo] who has had to resign for problems linked to the Mafia.”
2012 is indeed an anomalous year for Italians; they saw their former prime minister (Silvio Berlusconi) and current president (Giorgio Napolitano) each investigated for Mafia connections. Maybe it’s time to dissolve the capitol offices of the president, the prime minister and the cabinet. Preferably in acid.
Let's add lovely Polizzi Generosa to our list of Sicilian cities with alleged mafioso mayors. First citizen Patrizio David stepped down yesterday following the resignation of four city council members.