This Europe: Gay mayor helps strip city of prejudice

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The Independent Online

The city of Gela on the south coast of Sicily is famous for a number of things, none of them very savoury. It has a petrochemicals plant that turns the sky black and the sea rust-red. It hosts a lively vendetta between Mafia families, whose members rub out each other with guns and bombs at frequent intervals.

The city of Gela on the south coast of Sicily is famous for a number of things, none of them very savoury. It has a petrochemicals plant that turns the sky black and the sea rust-red. It hosts a lively vendetta between Mafia families, whose members rub out each other with guns and bombs at frequent intervals.

Gela is also the home of Italy's first naked news programme, where the anchorman reads the news while local women strip, dance and kiss him. The Catholic Church and the Mafia have both denounced the programme. "An evil act of delinquency," stormed Gela's parish priest. "Woman is sacred to the Mafia," declared a mob spokesman. "Her place is at home, ironing her husband's clothes, not in a television studio, removing her own."

But Gela's appetite for notoriety is not sated. This week, the city became the first in Italy to elect an openly homosexual mayor. "After Paris and Berlin," said Arcigay, a gay leftist organisation, "now it's Gela's turn". Rosario Crocetta, the triumphant candidate from the centre-left, lost the election 10 months ago to Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, but only by 107 votes. He challenged the result in the courts, then waited. When the stress of waiting became intense, he said, he checked into a hotel and read the Persian love poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi.

His opponent waged a nasty campaign, Mr Crocetta said, "but Gelites are mature. I will struggle against marginalisation of every kind." Around him the champagne corks popped – a welcome change from the Mafia's bombs.

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