IN their first direct vote for mayor, Palermo's citizens overwhelmingly elected a well-known opponent of the Mafia and the country's entrenched system of political party bosses.
Leoluca Orlando returns to office after an appointed term in the late 1980s and promises to make Palermo, a city long identified with Cosa Nostra, ``normal.''
Mr. Orlando and his supporters say they hope to ``liberate'' Palermo by giving it an efficient, clean government. But their aspirations extend beyond Sicily to the rest of Italy, which has also become weary of politics as usual. If the new mayor can break the Mafia's economic grip in its stronghold and demolish the equally clannish party patronage system in a city like Palermo, they say, he will show the rest of the country that real change is possible.
``He's an honest person,'' says Fabio Omodei, a young person who worked on the Orlando campaign. ``He hasn't disappointed us yet.''
Orlando won the support of 3 out of 4 voters, at a time when basic city services, such as running water, have been seriously neglected and when unemployment is running at nearly 30 percent. In his 28-page program, he detailed plans to rebuild the city by improving the schools and other city services, creating conditions for new jobs, and generally making the government more responsive to its citizens.
In a prelude to Italy's expected parliamentary elections in 1994, Orlando's was the only outright mayoral victory in Italy's major cities.
Across the country, voters resoundingly defeated the Christian Democratic Party (DC), Italy's leading political force, which has been deeply implicated in the country's continuing bribery and corruption scandal. Orlando left the DC a few years ago to form the Rete, a small national party based in Palermo.
Candidates in the rest of the country are back on the campaign trail in a bid to win the Dec. 5 runoff elections. In Rome, Naples, Genoa, Venice, and Trieste, left-of-center candidates won about 40 percent of the vote. Fifty percent was required to win under the direct mayoral election system introduced earlier this year.
Many Italians express alarm at the support given by about a third of the voters in Rome and Naples to neo-Fascist candidates, who capitalized on concerns about maladministration in those cities.
The size of Orlando's Nov. 21 victory surprised even his supporters. The last opinion poll before the election gave him only 52 percent of the vote. Elda Pucci, the second-place candidate with 16 percent, wondered aloud if it was possible for Orlando to win so massively without receiving votes from the Mafia.
Orlando's voters reply that Palermo has changed, that many citizens, appalled by a series of brutal mob murders, now openly defy the Mafia, and that Orlando well expressed the yearnings of most Palermitans, especially the young people.
``He's the only one who inspires a bit of faith,'' said a man attending Orlando's final campaign speech.
POLITICAL science student Giulia Maggio remembers his first term in office.
``When there were problems,'' she says, ``he went into the squares, he didn't stay in City Hall.''
And, she points out, Orlando has spent a lot of time abroad, especially in Germany, and therefore has observed first-hand how other democratic systems work.
But Orlando is also a controversial figure. He criticized revered anti-Mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone for allegedly possessing information about mob-connected politicians and not doing anything about it. Falcone was murdered by the Mafia last year, and his sister Maria still demands an apology from Orlando for what she considers an unjust attack.
Orlando aligned his left-leaning Rete party with the Communist Refoundation and the neo-Fascists in this year's referendum on electoral reform, urging voters to defeat the proposed change to a British-style electoral system. He favored dissolving Parliament and letting a newly elected body enact a reform. But voters approved the proposal, which Parliament has since made law. And many critics say a good dose of humility would do him no harm.
Signs of Orlando's victory were apparent two day's before the vote. The self-confident candidate pressed the flesh on Corso Enocchiapo Aprile in a historically hostile neighborhood. He worked the sidewalks, bobbed past meat hanging in butcher shops to leave his literature, burst into sandwich shops with a robust ``Buon giorno!''
Several people called him ``mayor.'' A few turned away from him, but in most cases, people burst into smiles, shook hands, and chatted with him. Some even sprinted to catch up with the Sicilian whirlwind and wish him the best.
Orlando stopped at one point to help a man of about 60, who blocked his path to plead, ``I don't know how to read or write. How can I go to vote?''