Carmela generously invited us for pranzo yet again! We don’t complain she is one of the best cooks I have ever encountered. We were all eating and laughing – well they were laughing at my Italian – when the door burst open and Carmela’s youngest daughter, Giusy raced in screaming. She was ranting so rapidly that I couldn’t figure out if the dog had died, her car was in an accident or – what? The what was something I never would have imagined. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t believe it, she is running for “consigliere” which is like being on the city council. Now in my New Jersey family, politics were a part of life. My dad started running for office before my sister and I could even run. We grew up licking stamps, banging on doors, smiling at creepy people and getting out the vote. I’ve run for and sat on a school board. Ran and lost a whopper of a city council race in Asbury Park and worked on numerous campaigns over the years.
What a kick in the bloodline connection to hear this beautiful 25 year old woman go on and on about shady campaigning. It seems that the last mayor (Sindaco) had been re-elected for a second five year term when the council (consiglieri) decided they couldn’t work with him. So they all up and resigned! Just like that a change of government! That meant another election had to be called – an out of cycle election. Before I go on let me try to explain the basics of the system. I sat down with Rossella ( our family avvocato) to get a quick lesson.
There are four levels of government – Federal (Governo Stato with two houses – Camera dei Deputati and Senato), Regional (President & Consiglio Regionale), Provincial ( President & Consiglio Provinciale) and local (Communale – Sindaco and Consiglieri). The number of local council members (Consiglieri) depends on the size of the Comune. I’m only going to talk about this local election – we have a cousin running and that makes this election important.
The Sindaco (mayor) and her/his Six Consiglieri are elected every five years – man does that sound just like my old home town Asbury Park, NJ. Originally the entire country had the local elections on the same two days (how civilized – two days – one of which is a Sunday). But as governments caved in and special elections had to be called the country suddenly found itself with elections happening all the time. Back to Pontelandolfo – the last six consiglieri walked and the Ministero dell’ Interno picked the date for the new election. The village activists only had a scant few weeks to get tickets together. The ticket formation is key.
The way local elections work in Italian towns is “all or nothing”. The various political parties ( organizations) put someone up for Sindaco. On the ballot you must vote for the party of the Sindaco and then write in just one name from the list of names below his/hers. That list is called “la lista” and the people on the list are the people the newly elected Sindaco will choose from for his consiglieri. You write the name of the one person you want to be consigliere after you vote for the party/sindaco. Who knew that “bullet voting” was a common sport in Italian politics! If the Sindaco whose list a person is on wins and that person – hopefully my cousin Giusy – was the top vote getter on the list than the Sindaco has to name her a member of the consigliere. The sindaco gets to pick four from his ticket. This is the majority (maggiore) and then the Sindaco must pick the Sindaco candidate of top two vote garnering other lists. These two become the consiglieri di minoranza. This all means the top vote getters are set for five years – unless the consigliere decide the Sindaco is too stupid to live and they all resign. Whew – it really is winning party take all.
The dilemma this particular Saturday was a typical scurrilous whisper whisper campaign tactic. Folks are spreading the rumor that the old ousted mayor supports the ticket that Giusy is on. Since he was ousted, that doesn’t bode well for her group. As Giusy went door to door asking for a vote for her group in general and herself in particular, she discovered this unwanted endorsement – not at one house but at many!
My immediate New Jersey political maven thought was – which one of the other groups started the rumor? When I ran for city council in Asbury Park this pazzo woman ran around telling people that my sons and I were slum lords in Bradley Beach. Strange rumor since A – I don’t have any kids and B – I only owned one house ever! People just like to rattle the gossip chain. The conversation around the table was heated. The advice ranged from “let it go – who will believe him” to “confront him and tell him to stop”. I was thinking more along the lines of sending out a flier that has the former Sindaco endorsing another group and really confusing everyone. During the angst, I discovered that Rossella’s husband Pasquale is a consigliere of a neighboring town. She married into another family with a history of political activity. When I heard that I stuffed another vote into the ballot box for blood defining who we are.
The first year I had my Italian citizen ship, we happened to be in Pontelandolfo during a municipal election. I actually gotten a post card alerting me to the election before we left Asbury Park. When Jack and I visited Carmela and Mario I asked about the upcoming election and if I could vote. They didn’t think I could but were supporting a “sindaco” – I had no idea what that meant, but of course I would vote for whoever they told me to vote for – I mean I did grow up in a political family and knew the drill. They made a call and suddenly this man raced in, grabbed me, my Italian passport and dragged me to the municipal building. I had no idea why. At that time I spoke barely any Italian and just signed where he pointed. The next thing I knew I had a document that allowed me to vote in my first Italian election. The elections are very civilized – they are over two days – one of which is Sunday. You have no excuse not to get to the polls. Besides with half of the town standing in front of the polling place going to vote is a social event. I went in to the poll, handed in my certificate and was handed a paper ballot. Now what? I couldn’t read a thing, couldn’t ask a question and stood staring at the little cardboard dividers set up on tables. Luckily, things are pretty relaxed and Annarita not only photographed my first vote but went to my “booth” with me. All I had to do was put an X in the circle with the sindaco’s name and write my choice for consigliere (I had it written on my palm) on the line below; then fold it and yes – stuff it in the ballot box! Since then, I have voted in a number of federal elections – absentee of course.
This year, knowing that I absolutely had to vote for Giusy, I went to the municipo with Rossella and asked the clerk myself for the necessary document to vote. The election is May 26 & 27 . Stayed tuned for more election updates as nefarious plots and electioneering continue!