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ROME — The daughter of a mafia victim is making gains in the race to be mayor of Naples, thanks to a bold pledge to free the city from the mob.
Alessandra Clemente, a 34-year-old lawyer and anti-Mafia activist, is backed by small left-wing parties and is currently third in the polls ahead of municipal elections in Italy’s major cities scheduled for early October.
Her team, if elected, will include a woman whose son was killed by the Mafia and Antonio Piccirillo, the rebel son of a Mafia boss.
Clemente, who was a council member for youth issues under the current mayor, Luigi De Magistris, hopes to galvanize the youth vote, taking advantage of increased engagement in politics and bolder opposition to the Mafia among young people.
“We have the right to be the first generation to live without the Camorra,” Clemente told POLITICO in a telephone interview.
There have been thousands of arrests, she said, “but that is not enough. What we need is strong, smart political investment in education and social inclusion so we can remove [the Mafia’s] strongest asset — the handover from father to son, for generations.”
Growing up, Clemente remembers a degraded city, with concerts banned, garbage rotting in the streets and a population cowed by violent turf wars between clans of the Camorra syndicate that operates in Naples.
She was 10 years old and playing at home in the middle-class neighborhood of Arenella when she heard the gunshots that killed her mother. The 39-year-old school teacher was walking in broad daylight with her five-year-old son when she was caught in the crossfire during an attempted Mafia hit on a rival boss.
The Camorra “stole my mother’s future forever,” Clemente said. “Every day they steal all our futures in smaller but no less important ways, by fixing tenders, business, drugs, denying rights.”
When she lost her mother “something broke forever,” Clemente added. “But if I am standing as mayor it is because of her and because I am aware of the injustice of criminality in my city.”
She said she chose Piccirillo, a campaigner who has denounced the choices of his Mafia boss father, for her team because she recognized he had also suffered losing a parent. Piccirillo’s father was in prison for much of his adolescence “and we share a vision of a city which must be free of the injustice that creates crime and the Camorra,” Clemente said.
Growing up, Clemente transformed her “rage” at her mother’s death into activism, then legal work helping victims of loan sharks and protection rackets. Now, she wants to channel it into youth centers, nurseries and new jobs.
“The Camorra exploits the very young, 21, 22-year-olds, and cons them into a life they think offers power and success, when it’s really a very fast path to death or prison.” The best defense, she said, is social inclusion, jobs and opportunities. “Work is the best weapon against the easy road of organized crime.”
Naples still has many social and cultural “wounds,” Clemente said. “But the image of the city has changed in the minds of Neapolitans. There is pride in our history of culture, humanity and inclusion.”
Young people are increasingly on the frontline of the battle against the Camorra, she said, initiating social inclusion and education projects and investing in businesses to stem a brain drain.
The coronavius pandemic has accentuated unemployment and deprivation in Naples and the mob has tried to exploit the misery and gain support by distributing food supplies. City authorities fought back, Clemente explained, for example by turning a property confiscated from the San Giovanni clan into a “supermarket of solidarity,” where struggling people could collect food free of charge.
If Clemente wins, she would be confronted with Naples’ major problems, including billions in debts that have forced cuts, and traffic chaos accentuated by the closure of a major tunnel through the city.
“Naples is a big, complicated metropolis, which has been developed sometimes very fast and in a chaotic way,” said Paolo Cupo of the Trinità dei Monti Napoli think tank. “It is rich in cultural assets and human capital, but to govern it well is not simple, and demands an organizational capacity that is not always there.”
Clemente said her strength comes from eight years’ experience as a council member under the current mayor, giving her in-depth knowledge of “the territory and the administrative machinery.”
That association with an administration perceived as having done little could, however, also be a weakness. “People say often in Naples that De Magistris has done a lot to curate his image but nothing in substance,” said Cupo.
Clemente is supported by communists and other far-left groups, together with campaigners demanding more rights and funding for Italy’s historically neglected south. She claims to present an “alternative to Draghismo,” the centrist politics of Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
One ambition is to secure a greater share for the south of the EU’s pandemic recovery fund, to improve public services with a hiring spree of teachers, social workers and community police officers. With €209 billion, Italy is the biggest recipient of the EU cash.
Clemente is running against local political heavyweights, including Gaetano Manfredi, former dean of the University of Naples Federico II, who is supported by the center-left Democrats and the 5Star Movement. The left has dominated local politics in Naples since the 1980s.
With 42 percent in the polls, Manfredi looks certain to top the first round of voting in the mayoral election.
But Clemente enjoys the second-highest rate of trust of all candidates and has been making gains, growing from 5-9 percent in July to 18-22 percent this week. That puts her within reach of the center-right’s preferred candidate, prosecutor Catello Maresca, who is polling at 20-25 percent.
If she makes it into a second-round runoff, one poll suggests Clemente would get close to Manfredi, with 48 percent to his 52 percent.
She’s still unlikely to win, although stranger things have happened in Neapolitan politics.
However, a strong showing will boost Clemente’s profile and her candidacy has shifted the debate into areas often neglected by mainstream politicians. With the right tipped to make progress around the country in the municipal elections, Clemente’s youthful presence could also present a fresh narrative for the left as it struggles to win over a new generation of voters.