Gianni Alemanno, former Mayor of Rome

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Gianni Alemanno
Former Mayor of Rome

By Andrew Stevens

4 May 2008: Born 1958 in the southern city of Bari, Gianni Alemanno, Rome's new mayor has undergone an ideological journey from the extreme right to the political centre, serving as a minister in the second government of Silvio Berlusconi. Elected in a shock defeat for the capital's left forces following Berlusconi's earlier victory in the April 2008 national polls, observers will no doubt closely scrutinise the new right-wing administration for any signs of throwbacks to the more sinister era of Italy's dark past.

Update June 2013: Gianni Alemanno loses his re-election bid and is replaced by Ignazio Marino from the centre-left Democratic Party.

Alemanno's 'colourful' political CV is obviously worthy of discussion. Rome's new mayor began his political career as a member of the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), becoming secretary of its Rome chapter. The MSI was formed in 1946 as a continuation of Mussolini's Fascisti, originally as an extra-parliamentary entity which refused to accept the legality of the post-war liberal democratic state. Though banned from organising as a political party under the Italian constitution, the MSI's existence was tolerated, not least by those elements among the security services involved in many of the terrorist atrocities committed under the guise of the US-backed anti-communist 'strategy of tension'. In the 1970s, having merged with some monarchist groups, it formally abandoned any pretence towards fascism and embraced liberal democracy.

Though the MSI had embarked on a public process of modernisation and strived for legitimacy, some elements remained committed to extra-parliamentary action. In 1981 Alemanno was charged with hurling a Molotov cocktail at the Soviet embassy in Rome, though later acquitted. He attained the rank of national secretary of the MSI youth wing in 1988, but was charged with organising an illegal demonstration and attacking police during a state visit by President George Bush Snr a year later.

Following the lead of his predecessor as youth wing secretary Gianfranco Fini (most recently Italian foreign minister), Alemanno committed himself to the modernisation of the MSI as a political force and joined Fini's National Alliance (AN) in 1995. The AN was an attempt to draw a line under the fascist era and commit the party to both liberal democracy and the renunciation of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, given the badge of mainstream acceptance by the inclusion of former Christian democrats. The rejection of the fascist legacy proved too much for many in the MSI, including Mussolini's granddaughter Alessandra and the far right's post-war lynchpin Pino Rauti (founder of the New Order terrorist group).

Alemanno first entered the electoral arena as an MSI member of the Lazio Regional Council in 1990, elevated to national politics in the Chamber of Deputies four years later amid the first Berlusconi landslide under his Forza Italia-led coalition. He was re-elected at the 1996 and 2001 general elections, serving in the cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi's House of Freedoms coalition as agriculture and forestry minister between 2001 and 2006. Alemenno acted as the centre-right's candidate for mayor of Rome in the 2006 municipal election but lost out to Walter Veltroni's successful re-election bid (37.1% to Veltroni's 61.4%) alongside the routing of Berlusconi's government at the national level.

However, in his second bid for the Rome mayoralty in April 2008 Alemanno thwarted Veltroni's predecessor as mayor Francesco Rutelli's attempt to retain the mayoralty for the centre-left. Though the second placed candidate in the first round (with 40.6% to Rutelli's 44.6%), a fortnight later Alemanno was able to use a lower turnout and widespread apprehension over perceived crime by immigrants to move into first place. Of the two candidates, Alemanno was viewed as the most convincing on the crime issue, with Rutelli forced on the defensive against his predecessor's weak record. For his part however, Alemanno was required to face down accusations of links to anti-Semites in the form of AN splinter party The Right, which threatened to derail his mainstream appeal electioneering. Alemanno rejected a formal alliance with the far-right party but was the beneficiary of its support regardless, cruising home with 53.7% of the vote.

Once the media's shock of Rome city hall having a right-wing occupant subsides, the serious business of governing the Italian capital will begin. In addition to tackling the perception of rampant crime in the capital, Alemanno faces the uphill task of restoring confidence in the public realm, which critics of Veltroni charge was overlooked on his watch as litter and traffic congestion remained on the socialite mayor's to do list for the past seven years.

Alemanno is married (to Isabella Rauti, daughter of Pino Rauti) with whom he has one son.

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