PART TWO – POLITICS
Where did your desire to become mayor come from?
Yes, my adventure in the world of wine went well. We started with a company that made zero bottles and finally produced more than 200,000 bottles – it was a good experience – it also worked economically, but I’m a fatalist.
You can see that there were all the conditions for Fate to bring me back to my city instead – first for love (and I repeat I’m happily back and happy to be here),
and then because I’ve always liked politics.
I started dabbling in politics in 1994, when Forza Italia was born, and I became the first president of young people in Forza Italia Lucca, in February 1994. I actively followed politics for a couple of years, then after finishing my studies, I went to live abroad. So I watched politics from the outside until I went back to live in Lucca when I started to follow it again and got passionate about it.
Then maybe there were some people who pushed hard for me to consider getting involved again, and in the end I convinced myself to try.
Was there a mentor?
Yes, I always say that my mentor was Vincenzo Placido (father of Beniamino, my friend), who was a person involved in politics forever. Now unfortunately he is dead, so he hasn’t seen the final result.
He was known in the world of politics, and it was he who thought I had the cards to be successful in politics, when I still didn’t see this myself. He was good. He was a visionary and he was right.
What advice did he give you?
More than anything else, he said to commit myself, because according to him I had the human and professional characteristics to be able to make a contribution to the city. So his advice was to truly believe it. Because I didn’t believe it the way he did. Then in the end I started to really believe, to the point that here I am today.
Politics can sometimes consume life…
It’s true. For now, politics is also demanding from my point of view, but well…
Why then did you decide to keep the role of assessor of major events for yourself?
Because, for the moment at least (later we’ll see), I have known Lucca Comics since 2011; I have always been with Beniamino Placido. We collaborated in the birth of the Comics, Mayor Favilla was still there at that time. We were trusted by the work team, which is still there: Renato Genovese, who was the director at that time, and Emanuele Vietina, who was the deputy director. They helped us give birth to our idea of a movie area, which was something that Comics surely would have done sooner or later, but Beniamino had the intuition to think of first.
I was the operational part of the project. So I was there from 2011 to 2018, when I had the honor of becoming president [from] 2018 until the middle of 2020.
And so I’ve kept the role of assessor for major events because I know in depth all the issues we face: the logistical, operational, and organizational parts, and I also know all the benefits that these events bring to the city.
Government must be good on the one hand, making sure that these events are there and that there are more and more of them, and on the other hand, it needs to explain to citizens how to look beyond the inconveniences (which are real) to see how many benefits these events bring.
For the moment, I think I am the most suited, if only because I have so much experience. Then surely slowly, slowly, it will be a role that I won’t keep forever, I just think it’s useful for the moment to keep it for myself.
How much does the city earn from these events?
It’s all measurable, particularly two elements: direct income from the activities they create, and then how much money is spent in the territory, from all points of view. Those would be monies spent in hotels, on food, beverage, extra shops, and then of course, in turn, the barman who earns, maybe goes afterwards to buy a game for his son, shoes, etc., etc., and therefore it is a whole network.
Lucca Comics is certified by the MT; they took in over 60 million [euros] just for tickets sold, then there is all the income from people who come without tickets – and we are talking about over 75, 80 million euros for Comics.
For the Summer Festival I don’t remember the exact figure, but there is also a certification for them from the University of Pisa; it was always on the order of several tens of millions of euros.
And then there is the Media Evaluation, which is what the municipality would spend on media if it wanted to buy advertising. That is, when we say the name Lucca, Lucca Comics, Lucca Summer Festival, Lucca Film Festival, etc., etc., those create impressions. Already in 2019 (the last pre-pandemic report) Comics, as certified by the Echo of the press, an independent body (not numbers that we or the Comics are saying), earned like 15 million [euros], 20 million [euros], a huge figure.
And this advertising then returns to have an impact on Lucca, because clearly when one comes to Lucca and says “Lucca is beautiful“, “Lucca” becomes another impression that influences people who then return in a different year for a new event.
When I was in Argentina, as I always say, I’d go to sell wine around the world, from the early 2000s until 2007, 8, 9,10, and I’d say, “I’m from Lucca” and nobody ever knew [where it was]. I always had to say “near Pisa”, “near Florence”. In the second decade of the 2000s, thanks to Lucca Comics and the Summer Festival and then finally since Puccini was more tied to the name of Lucca, I started to find people in the United States who’d respond to my saying I was from Lucca, by saying “Ah yes, the Rolling Stones played there. You shot the preview for the film Thor there”, and these experiences are proof that many citizens who have traveled know Lucca better now thanks to these events.
You are from Lucca, but where in Lucca are you from?
I was born in Monte San Quirico just outside Lucca, which was the home of my grandparents, then I lived in the suburb of Maolina, then I came to live in the city, so I’ve lived both outside and inside [the walls]. I lived in the city until I went to secondary school, then went to San Lorenzo di Moriano of Lucca, so that is the area where I spent all my adolescence up to 25 years. After that I went to live alone in Piazza Anfiteatro, and then I lived first in London, then in Argentina, before returning and meeting my wife. I returned again to Piazza Anfiteatro. And now I’m living outside the city center, so I have lived both in the historic center and the countryside of Lucca a lot. I’ve toured various areas of Lucca, and I know this part of the Morianese well, Monte San Quirico, and Piazza Anfiteatro, the historic center. No place can be more central than Piazza Anfiteatro, which was an area where there was a lot of tourism but there was no bad nightlife, there never was, and more or less it remains the same.
Neighborhoods of the city that voted for you: did they have unsolved problems?
I think that more than problems [which led them to vote for Pardini] it was how good we were at making our general policies understood in those areas and then, for example, the areas where I had lived went well: in the Morianese l won in the first round. The area where I live now, I won. So the areas that went well for me were perhaps where I was better known, because at the administrative level people vote for people whom they know to be reliable and for the projects they want to do if elected, rather than for the candidate’s political color.
You’ve said you want to be fair – to present a fair administration.
Were there any decisions taken by [former Mayor] Tambellini that seemed unfair to you?
Unfair seems a strong term – let’s say decisions were made that I did not share. I can’t judge whether things were fair or unfair. Let’s just say things were done that I wouldn’t have done, but like… they were all political choices in the end. During the electoral campaign we talked about some situations: I would not have done certain public works or I would have done others, but each administration has the legitimate right to make its own choices. One attacks them politically speaking, discusses them and then makes other decisions. We will have to be good at discontinuing some things. There are many choices to be made in my opinion.
Do you want more discussions?
Most absolutely, people’s participation is essential.
In your role as assessor, you also have the responsibility of simplifying the bureaucracy …
The bureaucracy must certainly be simplified in Italy. Unfortunately I know that it’s been talked about since 1994, when I first started following politics – it was something that Berlusconi harped on every day; 28 years have passed, and the bureaucracy has perhaps gotten worse.
So government, government at every level has an obligation to do something about it, because otherwise we certainly can’t do business effectively. We cannot help citizens effectively if every decision has to go through a very long and complicated bureaucracy.
What a municipality can do, as we said, is to try to use the concept of a smart city which by definition, streamlines some procedures, some decisions and some things making them tangible for the citizen, visible.
Citizens should be able to use their smartphones rather than having to go to city offices. We have to go in that direction.
Digital transition etc., is also in PNRR (state reform plan), so it’s all connected. Citizens should waste as little time as possible in offices – the offices should go to the citizens; in short – conceptually – this would be a step forward.
But then there are the bureaucracies created by regional and national laws that do not depend on us. Citizens of the whole country must put pressure on the regional government, and [also] on the national one, so that politicians get the courage to streamline as much as possible. This is the great problem of Italy in general.
I like transparency…
This takes a lot of information, because in reality many procedures are already quite digital but people don’t know about them. We need to advertise it more, because some people may be going to offices for a certificate that they could obtain at home, but they don’t know this. Then for heaven’s sake, people must also learn to seek information, but we must be good at making it easily accessible.
Tell us more about the agreements you made during the elections with right-wing candidates…
This is because between the first round and the second round of the election for mayor, I was able to reach agreements with those who had lost in the first round, before the final ballot vote.
The agreements I made with Barsanti and Cecchini were just on points of our program. For example, we all agreed that we need to fix, review and change the operational plan; all three of us also agreed that we need to create new parking, invest in the name of Lucca and Puccini, invest in theater, invest in museums. These things are not things that are the stuff of one party or another, they are things needed by the city. These are projects in the interest of the city and therefore agreements have been made on these points.
There are several properties that have been abandoned for many years. What do you propose to do with these?
I believe the operational plan must target the regeneration and rehabilitation of buildings, rather than focusing on land consumption. There is no need to build something new. There is a need for what already exists to be restructured. But to see this happen, those who would do it need assurances, because clearly those who are interested in restructuring work do it to earn money – not as speculators but as investors. These empty buildings and ruins will remain [as they are] if the government doesn’t put anyone who wants to do this work in a position to be able to do it in compliance within the limits of the law. The government must not always be a brake, because otherwise it becomes part of the bureaucracy too.
Will it be possible to accomplish change?
Yes. But in reality here, some properties are not fixed because it is complicated … It is clear that if I have a request for houses but I have not asked for offices, it is useless for me to say that I’ll build offices; if meanwhile, there is no one who wants them. It must be determined by the market. So we should be even more attentive to the needs of the market.
And to create jobs?
The administration cannot create the jobs itself, because this is not its job. But it must put those who want to create work in a position to be able to do so by removing all the bureaucratic impediments to it, or in any case, helping.
People might like to start a business, but then give up because they can’t even figure out how to start after they go to a government office. I saw it when we made wine and wanted to import it to Italy. It was mayhem. If you asked three things from three different offices, they’d give you three different answers. So this discourages people from doing things, unless one is really determined.
The city cannot support development with incentives, but it can enable those who want to work and invest to do it better.
Is there anyone who will do this job for the administration?
Yes, it is the work that the assessors have to do: the assessor for trade or tourism or construction. The assessor who decides to take on a project will have understood the whole philosophy of our entire administration, and we will all agree on this line.
It’s been just a few weeks since you became the mayor, but is there a goal that you’ve already achieved that you are proud of?
Let’s say I’m happy when people tell us we’re very present – and we’re projecting this image because we’re not pretending, it’s us. So if the citizens already get this, terrific, because none of us are doing anything other than being ourselves – and we’re going to be just fine going forward this way.