Italian elections. Giusi Nicolini had become a global figure in the wake of the migrant crisis on her island. But her globetrotting image became her Achilles’ heel.

Mayor of Lampedusa struggles to digest election rout

Angry and disappointed, Giusi Nicolini was gone for hours after learning she lost. She went to her office, where she picked up some of her things and then vanished. Her defeat as mayor of Lampedusa — the island that in five years has taken her around the world, even to the White House — was too bitter. She was part of the team of excellence that then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi brought with him during his visit to Barack Obama.

The latest award to Nicolini was issued by UNESCO just two months ago for having “saved the lives” of many migrants and “welcomed them with dignity.” For this, she has become a symbol. But it was not enough to assure her re-election.

Actually, she came up third in the polls in this weekend’s elections, behind winner Totò Martello, the old guard of the left and leader of the fishermen, and Filippo Mannino, an insurance broker, close to the 5 Star party.

“I launched my candidacy again because I wanted to complete the work begun in the last five years, it was not possible. And I am convinced that the reason behind it were not my positions on the migration issue,” she said bitterly, after she metabolized her anger. “In recent years, we have defeated the immigration emergency and we were able to give space to tourism,” she added. She is convinced that “the reasons for the defeat must be sought elsewhere: on the future of the islands, land use, expansion of constructions and the fight against corruption.”

“We were doing a great job, it was not appreciated,” she regrets.

During the election campaign, her opponents often accused her of aspiring to more awards and accolades instead of addressing the issues that are dear to the inhabitants of Lampedusa and Linosa. She countered: “They all attacked me about it, but all I did was take the name of Lampedusa to the world. I have not developed any political career, I refused the nomination to the European elections in April 2014. My desire to reapply for mayor proves otherwise. Pope Francis has come to Lampedusa for Lampedusa, not for the mayor; the President of the Republic came, because I have been good at organizing the inauguration of the museum.”

And again: “If I wanted to use my visibility in personal terms, I would not have repeated my candidacy for mayor, I would have pursued a political career and I would not have suffered the humiliation of defeat.”

Perhaps, accepting the entry into Renzi’s secretariat a few days before the election was a bad move. Nicolini does not have many friends in the Democratic Party. Her fiercest opponent was the new mayor, Martello, deployed against Renzi and tied to former Democrats. He constantly criticized her: “She only thinks of her image. She is out of touch with the country.”

Martello met another symbol of the island, Pietro Bartolo, the protagonist of the film “Fuocoammare.” However, Nicolini recalled that Bartolo, together with Martello, was adviser 20 years ago with Bernardino de Rubeis, mayor between 2007 to 2012, who was sentenced to seven years in jail by the Agrigento court for a history of bribes.

In addition to the confrontation with Martello’s “friendly fire,” the former mayor has found herself on the path of Filippo Mannino and Angela Maraventano, who gives a voice to the Salvini League, of which she was a senator, and strives to make Lampedusa become a “free zone.” But while Maraventano picked only 6 percent up, Martello got 40 percent and Mannino near 30.

Nicolini came only third, with 24.38 percent. Not much for a symbol well known around the world.

She consoles herself reading Renzi’s post on Facebook: “Thank you, Giusi. In politics you can win and you can lose, but the quality of human relationships never fails.” He announced: “We will work together in the Democratic Party, ahead together.”

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