The scarlet or the black for Naples voters: A former Communist is tipped as the winner in Sunday's mayoral contest against the 'Black Madonna', writes Patricia Clough

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NEAPOLITANS vote for a mayor on Sunday, choosing a grave ex- Communist apparatchik who promises 'normality', or the blonde, bright-eyed, red-mouthed granddaughter of the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who promises all sorts of things.

The choice between Antonio Bassolino and neo-Fascist Alessandra Mussolini, he as serious and uncharismatic as she is outspoken and eye-catching, could also be the choice between a chance to free Naples from the clutches of its Mafia - the Camorra - or not. For the Camorra, plus the corrupt old political guard that connived with it and many that benefited from it all, are expected to vote for la Mussolini.

The choice could also affect Italy's image abroad at a sensitive time. A Mussolini victory in Naples, with or without another for the neo-Fascist leader Gianfranco Fini in Rome, could send negative signals about the course which the country is on after the collapse of its old political class.

Not least because leaders of the G7 industrial democracies are to have their summit in Naples next summer (though rumour has it in Rome that if Ms Mussolini wins the government will move it to the nearby island of Capri - close enough to save face but with a different mayor to greet the guests).

Until Ms Mussolini came second and entered the run-off on 21 November, the foreign media appeared to be paying far more attention to her campaign than did the Italian press, which seemed not to take her, or what she stands for, seriously.

A journalist from the Corriere della Sera attacked the Independent in particular and the foreign press in general on television for frivolously focusing on what he dismissed as 'colour'.

The 'Black Madonna', as the weekly Panorama calls her (fascism's colour is black), has tried acting, and posed semi-nude for photographers. She was elected to parliament last year and is also supposed to be finishing medical studies. Aged 31, she is married to a captain in the Guardia di Financa (fiscal police). She has no children.

She has worked long and hard, touring the streets, shaking hands, holding rallies, giving endless interviews. She talks of moral renewal and honesty, pours invective on her opponents and demands 'for us, four years (in power), for those who ruined the city, 20 years in jail'.

Her programme is large and generic, her ideas few, and her own beliefs equally vague. 'I am not a fascist, I am a democrat,' she says. 'I am not a fascist, I am a Mussolinian'; 'I am an anarchist.'

She does not follow her party line, nor the advice of an official sent from Rome to teach her to control her language after responding to Mr Bassolini's attempts to discuss the city's problems on a television face-to-face with a stream of abuse. 'I do what I want,' she says.

None of this bothers Naples' popolino, the little people of the old alleyways and markets who coo over their Ale, reminisce about her nonno, the Duce, and her aunt, local- girl-turned-star, Sophia Loren. Auntie Sophia, however, who once publicly toyed with the idea of running for mayor herself, has noticeably stayed far away in America throughout the campaign and has not given a word of support to her niece.

But in the choice between extremes that faces Naples on Sunday, a remarkable number of people, in a city that normally likes flamboyant characters, appear to prefer a faceless former Communist to Mussolini's granddaughter.

Mr Bassolino, son of a gardener, can boast that, as a regional Communist councillor, he had denounced the corruption in the city and fought the local Christian Democrat leaders, now under an avalanche of judicial investigations. Regarded as promising, he was invited to work at party headquarters in Rome, was elected to parliament and last April sent back to Naples to head what was by then the Democratic Party of the Left, which had become tainted by scandal.

Originally a hardliner, he has since become a moderate.

He is backed by a broad left-wing alliance and is consciously seeking to avoid all signs of 'red' militancy. He is campaigning for 'normality' - something Naples has not had for decades - to end the domination of the Camorra and re- establish the rule of law, 'to restore Naples to the state and bring the state back to Naples'.

It seems to be working. He is reportedly favoured by the wealthy bourgeoisie and high society, as well as by the professional classes, intellectuals and - more predictably - the workers in the industrial areas where he started. The latest polls - treated with caution because they were inaccurate last time - put Mr Bassolino ahead by around 60 per cent to 40 per cent.