by Leoluca Orlando
Orlando offers a different perspective on the Mafia than authorities like Pino Arlacchi and Nicola Tranfaglia. Born into an aristocratic Palermo family, he joined a small, honest faction of the corrupt Christian Democratic Party and became mayor of Palermo with over 75% of the popular vote in 1993. Cogently, dispassionately and engagingly, Orlando (no longer mayor of Palermo) analyzes the Mafia’s decades-long reign. Equally important, he recounts the struggle to preserve the civic life of a great European metropolis. The Mafia has benefited from a perverse claim of being an “honored society,” yet Orlando exposes a starkly different reality. The “Sack of Palermo,” in which Mafia-controlled construction companies destroyed the city’s architectural and cultural legacy by covering it in cement and shoddy construction, was the most visible Mafia transgression. More perniciously, with its enormous drug-trade profits and its ability to deliver votes, the Mafia became an alternative to legitimate government and, eventually, intrinsic to the ruling Christian Democratic oligarchy. Orlando was close to many illustrious persons who died fighting the Mafia, and he was marked to share their fate until a crime lord realized that Sicily, Italy and the world were outraged over the murders of politicians. By demonstrating the Mafia’s power, such killings generally destabilized the national government, but finally the authorities cracked down effectively. Giulio Andreotti, seven times prime minister, was implicated in protecting the Mafia in exchange for votes, but Orlando skims over this episode. He cites the 1997 reopening of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo (“temporarily” closed in 1974 for repairs costing millions of dollars that went directly to the Mafia) as a sign that the city, free of the corrupt power structure, is enjoying a renaissance.