We put the Mayor of Venice’s work in the past five years under the lens, starting with some of the election campaign promises made in 2015 when, unknown as a politician but well-known as a skilled businessman, he entered the field with a dominating and costly campaign.
By Enzo Bon
19 September 2020
Finish the work begun five year ago. This has been, as the local papers are reporting today, the leitmotiv at the end of Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro’s 2020 election campaign running for a second term. Sunday and Monday, over two hundred thousand eligible voters who live in Venice, the islands, Mestre, Marghera, or in the burgs of the Venetian mainland, will have to express their opinion of the incumbent first citizen’s work, and so giving this phrase, proclaimed during the final rally in Piazza Ferretto, the significance of either a threat or a promise.
So, on Sunday and Monday, in the secrecy of the ballot box, those who are convinced that the work undertaken by Brugnaro has been sound and therefore should be completed, will place the cross on his name: those, on the other hand, consider a possible second term a disaster, will find other candidates to support.
Beyond the personal choices of the voters, to be completely respected, we want to briefly analyze, as objectively as possible, the work of the Mayor of Venice over the past five years, starting with some of the campaign promises he made in 2015 when, unknown as a politician but well-known as a skilled businessman, he entered the field with a dominating and costly campaign.
Let’s start with housing, a problem for the City, which especially in Venice has suffered a decline in residents in a near-biblical exodus. Thirty thousand new residents: this was the magic number pulled out of the hat by the then candidate for Mayor, who promised a grand return of those, obtorto collo, who had decided that within the City area for him and his family. The numbers, alas, give a different result: in five years, on 31 December 2019 (according to City data), there were 259,297 residents, with a net decline of over five thousand individuals since Brugnaro took office.
Another crucial point in his election promises: security.
“One of the primary tasks – one could read on the site brugnarosindaco.it at the time, because now these pages have disappeared, and finding them requires searching on archive.org – has been that of guaranteeing security in every part of the city, and decorum of plazas, streets and public gardens where we should no longer see drug dealers, petty criminals, annoying homeless people and beggars.”
This does not require much comment: the news, even recently, demonstrates the opposite, with closed stores in the historic center of Mestre and drug dealers who now have set posts, even and especially in the public parks. And unfortunately it’s not enough, the work of the local Police, though strenuous, with almost daily seizures of drugs, and neither is the great emphasis on the new canine unit, which Brugnaro seems to appreciate more than the human agents. The erasure of years of experience with the elimination of the street workers who, every night since 1997, were present in the area to give effective help to drug users, but also to other citizens, and aiming instead at only repression, has resulted in an amplification of the drug phenomenon that is clearly visible to everyone. Nor is it enough to arm the local Police force with Skorpion machine guns, tasers (now prohibited by the Legislature), drones, intelligent cameras, smart control rooms and other amenities of this nature, which we believe serve only to blow a little smoke over the citizens’ eyes, but do not resolve the problem.
In July 2015, just days after his taking office, Brugnaro gave life to another of his campaign promises: participation. There were to be public assemblies, held in different places in the vast municipal area, which would give citizens the opportunity to dialogue with the Mayor and the administration, in a sort of grassroots democratic participation aimed at optimizing the administration of the city. About 20, or perhaps one more, of these “consultative roundtables” as they came to be called, were held. Then, instead, nothing: since the Municipalities were giving signs of restlessness (in fact they were all, save one, political adversaries of the Mayor), Brugnaro would find it useful, not being able to eliminate them “with napalm” as they are elected bodies, to remove all their delegates, giving them a merely representative role, but with no decision making power. The City Council of 25 February 2016 is emblematic, when Brugnaro, from the highest seat of Ca’ Farsetti, lashed out at one of the presidents, calling him “obnoxious, phony and false, with a sly smile…” among the snickering and amused comments of the Council president and various councilors. Then recently there is the stubbornly lacking debate between Mayoral candidate Brugnaro with the other competitors, instead of with just one, and making that one debate conditional on including only that one competitor, and that the debate would be broadcast on a private TV network, this also chosen by Brugnaro.
The municipal budget was and is a mantra for Mayoral candidate Brugnaro. He started in 2015, saying he had found eight hundred million in debt while looking “in the coffers of Ca’ Farsetti”, which the City was close to defaulting on, and that there would not even be money to pay the employees; he repeats the same thing even today. It’s a shame that the Mayor forgot and forgets that the budget he had in hand then had been approved by the governing Commissioner Vittorio Zappalorto, a state leader with integrity and now the prefect of Venice, assisted by four sub-commissioners, and not by Orsoni; and which thus was not the work of the notorious center-left; and which furthermore the balance sheet was perfectly equal to and in line with the pact of stability, providing that the income from public assets which this administration has preferred to postpone to later years or even cancel. And the famous eight hundred million in debt, waved about in every interview, were loan contracts between the City and the galaxy of its investee companies which it pays for the maintenance of services, functions and equipment. These loans, of course, reduce over time, regardless of the Mayor’s abilities.
In 2015 Brugnaro had big ideas about tourism such as regulating flow, events in the off-season, emotional tourism, transforming tourists into “friends of Venice”: all with the goal of making this resource that is so vital and important to the city compatible with the daily life of the citizens. Five years on, we know how that went: embarrassing attempts with turnstiles put out then taken back to give a little visibility to the subject; an absolutely unlivable city, massacred by a tourism that is increasingly poor both in terms of wealth and of culture; the construction of new hotels everywhere; no intervention for residents and housing, with a resulting constant loss of inhabitants, mainly in the old city. And for culture, for which the Mayor has retained the delegation for himself, the objectives were, among the others, the realization of large, world-class events to promote the local culture of industrial manufacturing and crafts; putting the annual program of all these events online; offering space to creative professions between art, innovation, culture and tourism; the creation of a Hub-Lab of culture and art. Was any of this done? Until now the campaign promises. Beyond our conclusions, each of us can in conscience judge if and how they have been respected.
Then there are the unresolved issues surrounding the Mayor of Venice, now Mayoral candidate, Brugnaro: the potential conflict of interests, now perhaps neutralized, but not resolved, by the blind trust set up by his companies: Pili (with Porta di Venezia), the Scuola Grade della Misericordia, the glassmaking school Abate Zanetti, to recall a few. And then there is the businesslike and brusque manner, which is certainly not inclined to mediation, but rather to imperial decision-making, if not confrontation (and City employees know something about that). Finally, there is the fact that Brugnaro painted himself as a civic and always pro-government candidate, not tied to any party platform “neither right nor left”, and now he has formed alliances with lists that are decidedly right-wing: the Lega, which this time won’t accept just participating but which will demand key positions in the administration and significantly greater decision making power than they had in the past council, where it was considered a court minstrel; Fratelli d’Italia, with the deadly embrace that Brugnaro signed with Meloni some time ago; Forza Italia, or what remains of this political faction.
So, deciding if “finish the work remaining to be done”, as Mayoral candidate Brugnaro said yesterday is a threat or a promise, falls to the voters of the City of Venice, to whom, emphasizing the fundamental importance of participating in the election, we wish good voting.
Photographs by Andrea Merola
Venetian, class of 1955, Enzo Bon is married and lives in Treviso. He is a journalist, an expert in audio-visual and multimedia communication technologies, has worked for over twenty years for the institutional communications in the Public Administration, first as manager of the civic network “PoloEst” of the Province of Venice and then, from 2003 to 2016, as manager of the Press Office of the City of Venice. He was also managing director then editorial director of http://www.comune.venezia.it. Always committed to training, he has done a good deal of teaching on subjects related to communication.