In a development considered unthinkable just a few years ago, an openly gay man won election as governor of Sicily in an Italian regional election on Sunday.
Rosario Crocetta, 61, a former mayor of the Sicilian city of Gela who became known as an outspoken crusader against the Sicilian Mafia, came in first place with 30.4 percent of the vote in a ten candidate race.
The Italian news service ANSA reports that although Crocetta’s vote total isn’t large enough for a governing majority for the center-left Democratic Party, under whose banner he ran, he is expected to form a coalition government in the Sicilian Parliament with one or more of the other parties.
“Today is more than an election result, it is a date with history,” the AFP news service quoted Crocetta as telling journalists.
“It’s the first time that a candidate for the left is elected as regional governor, it’s the first time that an anti-Mafia candidate wins,” AFP quoted him as saying in referring to Sicily.
Political commentators in Italy and Europe viewed Crocetta’s election as significant because he beat the center-right candidate aligned with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Nello Musumeci, who received 25.7 percent of the vote.
Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom Party and other right-leaning parties have won nearly all elections in Sicily since the end of World War II.
While campaigning in August, Crocetta startled some political observers when he said in a press interview that he would abstain from sex if elected governor, or president, as the head of the Sicilian government is sometimes called.
“If I were to become Sicily’s president, I would say farewell to sex,” he told the Klaus Condicio news website. “I will consider myself married to my region and its inhabitants.”
Crocetta won election as mayor of Gela, located on Sicily’s southern coast, in 2003 as a member of the Italian Communist Party, becoming Sicily’s and Italy’s first openly gay mayor. He joined the Democratic Party in 2008, one year before he left office as mayor.
His long record as a champion of government reform and his role as a leader of Sicily’s anti-Mafia movement attracted strong support among voters in Gela who, according to some observers, took the extraordinary step of supporting a gay candidate in a conservative leaning region.
His anti-Mafia work also resulted in numerous death threats requiring that he receive 24-hour police protection during his years as mayor.
He is fluent in Arabic, French, and English and served as Sicily’s cultural liaison to Middle Eastern countries, including Tunisia, Yemen, and Lebanon before becoming mayor. After completing two terms as mayor he served as one of Italy’s representatives in the European Parliament.