Sergio Cofferati, former mayor of Bologna

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Sergio Cofferati
former mayor of Bologna, Italy
By Andrew Stevens

11 February 2008: Known locally as “the Chinaman” on account of his narrow eyes, Bologna’s mayor represents the new Democratic Party and his trade union career reflects the city’s industrial heritage. Elected in 2004, he has faced criticism within his own party over crackdowns on anti-social behaviour in the city. He is also a noted authority on science fiction works and is nominated for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

Update June 2009: Flavio Delbono elected Mayor of Bologna,.replacing Sergio Cofferati who was not running for a new mandate.

Born in 1948 in the Lombardy town of Sesto ed Uniti, Cofferati initially worked for the Milan plant of Pirelli, becoming a trade union organiser. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming leader of the FILCEA (chemical industry) section of the Communist-led Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) in 1988 and of CGIL itself in 1994. After his tenure as General Secretary ended in 2002 he returned to his former place of work but then accepted the nomination for centre-left Union’s candidate in the 2004 mayoral elections in Bologna. In the resulting election he beat the centre-right single term incumbent Giorgio Guazzaloca with 55.9% of the popular vote.

By far the most controversial aspect of Cofferati’s term as mayor is his Giuliani-style “war on illegality”, in which Cofferati claimed the left had to rethink its approach to criminality and declare solidarity with the victims of crime as well as the socially excluded. Cofferati’s adoption of communitarianism would not be surprising elsewhere – it has been a fundamental tenet of Blairite social democracy in most western centre-left parties since the mid-1990s, but this has previously not taken root among the Italian left, which remains influenced by more radical sources.

Bologna, with its massive university campus and as scene of the 1980 Bologna massacre by right-wing bombers, has long been regarded as a hotbed of leftism in Italy, in spite of recent elections of centre-right figures at the municipal level. Cofferati’s programme, which involves aggressive responses to both anti-social behaviour and homelessness in the city, is widely disapproved of among many who campaigned for his election and a left challenge to his mayoralty is supported by a number of other left parties. Criticism of the mayor’s social programme ranges from accusations of authoritarianism to even fascism, on account of his signing of a “pact against illegality” with the far-right National Alliance. He remains supported in the city council by the Democratic Party, which in 2007 replaced the Democrats of the Left under the leadership of outgoing Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni. Cofferati is a member of the national council of the new party.

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