Brugnaro re-elected as Venice mayor

Luigi Brugnaro

 VENICE – In a sideshow to the larger election, right-wing independent Luigi Brugnaro was heading back into office as mayor of Venice, delighting those who are threatened by the drop in tourism there while bitterly disappointing those who have railed against his failure to reign in overtourism.

 Riding the wave of popularity generated by the Lega’s Regional President Luca Zaia, Brugnaro, was projected to win 53 per cent in the first round, trouncing his nearest rival, PD candidate Pier Paolo Baretta, who was at 29 per cent. With this result, Brugnaro wins without going to a second round.

 The result is not unexpected as the 2015 shift of the Venetian voting from left to right that brought in Brugnaro was boosted by the coronavirus, which both showcased Zaia’s success in disease control and, from day one, decimated Venetian tourism. It caused tourists to abandon the city for months, giving the city over to residents, fish and wild birds, while taking an unanticipated toll on the cruise ship business.

 In early August, shipping company MSC took the occasion to announce cut backs in Venetian port calls and shifting arrivals to nearby Treviso, at least through 2021. No reasons were given, but this appeared to be in part aimed at addressing global opposition generated by images of cruise ships looming over the city and environmental concerns over damage to the fragile lagoon.

 The announcement generated demonstrations in August in Venice, first by environmentalists celebrating the move away from Venice, and then later by port workers, put out of work due to the virus and threatened by the cutbacks. They demanded the cruise business restore services.

 The dispute comes against a background of years of anti-cruise ship protests and heated debate over alternative solutions to allow the ships to visit Venice without passing close to the fragile medieval city and through the delicate lagoon.

 Both Brugnaro and Baretta supported the port workers’ demonstration, advocating short-term solutions — such as moving cruise ship traffic to the adjacent Port Marghera — which are environmentally problematic, even as the long-term solution, moving shipping out of the lagoon entirely to a port built in the sea, is becoming more generally acceptable.

 But Baretta, reflecting the left’s long-standing stance, has also campaigned for sustainable tourism, something Brugnaro avoided, emphasizing instead his support of police and employment.

 The city of Venice, which since the 1930s has included historic Venice and the mainland Port Marghera, Mestre and nearby, has increasingly been divided against itself. Four-fifths of Venice’s 280,000 residents live on the mainland, while the historic lagoon city has just over 50,000. The historic city has lost residents at a rate of 1000 a year, due mostly in recent decades to the pressures of 30 million tourists descending on Venice annually.

 Brugnaro has catered to business and to the voters on the mainland, who are less sympathetic to the problems the crowds, lifestyle pressure, historic preservation and environmental threats. While some Venetians also benefit from the increased property values caused by tourism -- as residents rent via Airbnb to tourists and sell their palazzos to outsiders -- most Venetians have lost out.

 In fact, in the historic city the vote clearly went against Brugnaro today, with his majority coming only from mainland voters.

 Repeated referendums, the latest in 2019, have turned down options to re-divide the cities, a result reflecting both the recognition of the interconnectedness of their economies and the growing population strength of the mainland.