The Man Taking Down The Sicilian Mafia

Rosario Crocetta has already survived an assassination attempt as he cleans up the island and shows no sign of stopping...
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Rosario Crocetta has already survived an assassination attempt as he cleans up the island and shows no sign of stopping...

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If you squint hard enough, you can see something good in Sicily’s kooky regional election this week. The shockingly high amount of voters who boycotted the race—57 percent sat out last Sunday’s polls—can be read as a sign that the orgy is over for Silvio Berlusconi’s compromised cadre. More important for Sicilians, it shows that the Mafia can no longer deliver the votes to the candidate it favours.

Now enter the victorious centre-left governor, Rosario Crocetta, a tough-minded pol with the kind of anti-Mafia bona fides to put mobsters on notice. He hails from Gela, an industrial city on the southern coast so lousy with crime that it has its own homegrown mafia, La Stidda. (Language lesson: stella, “star” in Italian = stidda in Sicilian.)

As Gela’s seven-year mayor, Crocetta purged the city government and even the local carabiniere of stiddesi, closed eighty of their housing projects, and persuaded many shopkeepers to quit paying extortion fees. Soon elected to parliament, Crocetta served on the EU’s Anti-Mafia Commission.

Crocetta also survived a 2008 plot involving a Lithuanian hitman hired to assassinate “that communist faggot,” according to a crime boss caught on tape. That he is gay excites the mainstream press, which has tried to come to terms with this inversion of Italian machismo. Then again, Crocetta is no powder puff. (Compare Berlusconi’s makeup and painted-on hair. And no jokes about team Palermo’s pink soccer uniforms.)

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Second place in the governor’s race went to Beppo Grillo, the comic-provocateur who taunts Berlusconi publicly, calling him “the Psycho Dwarf.” (The former prime minister, tarnished by sex scandals and plagued with a big mouth, was slapped with a tax fraud conviction last week.)

Grillo’s protest vote further reveals strong disaffection in Sicily, a traditionally conservative bastion. If anything, he split the left vote and still managed to trounce the Dwarf’s candidate, Sebastiano Musumeci, who came in third.

I predict that Crocetta won’t just clean up the island metaphorically, but will tackle the garbage problem as well. As Gela’s mayor, he put the brakes on the single-bidding contract system that left the city’s garbage collection under Stidda control.

Author Roberto Saviano chose the perfect allusion when he titled his exposé of the Neapolitan Mafia Gomorrah. Not only does the word play on the southern crime group’s traditional name, the Camorra, but it equates the fire and brimstone of biblical retribution with the burning heaps of garbage in the regions around Naples.

Crocetta also survived a 2008 plot involving a Lithuanian hitman hired to assassinate “that communist faggot,” according to a crime boss caught on tape.

The Camorra’s practice of illicit dumping, detailed by Saviano at great risk to his life, periodically leads to a breakdown of trash collection services in the cities. Bags of refuse pile high in the streets. Under the Naples sun, it cooks and rots into a fetid mess, a holiday for rats and roaches but not for tourists.

Things are pretty stinky in Sicily, too. Walls of bulging plastic bags line the streets of cities big and small. Illegal dumping grounds have been uncovered with links to Giuseppe Liga, a Palermo architect who, before his arrest, was considered the inheritor of imprisoned boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo’s rackets. Mafia turncoat Manuel Pasta referred to Liga as the pope of rubbish:

”The architect is the capomandamento [district chief].... Each parish has a parish priest and then there is the Pope who handles all the parishes. Liga had been put there by Lo Piccolo when they were still free. If something happened, the architect was the person in charge.”

But Liga also had connections to two predecessors of governor-elect Crocetta: Totò Cuffaro, now serving a sentence for Mafia association, and Raffaele Lombardo, who quit office in July when he came under investigation for the same offence. Lombardo's trial begins November 15.