Italy: Former Uffizi director under fire for joining race to be Florence mayor

Florence: The German-born former director of Florence’s world-famous Uffizi gallery has come under fire for his decision to run for mayor of the city with the far-right coalition that governs Italy, in what could be a major blow for the left.

If elected, Eike Schmidt – who has been credited for modernising the Uffizi – pledged to tackle problems such as security and over-tourism in the Tuscan capital, which for more than three decades has been a leftwing stronghold.

The announcement that he would compete as a candidate in the June election – with an alliance comprising the prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, the League and Forza Italia – ended months of speculation.

Schmidt said: “Since July last year, when it emerged that my second mandate as director of the Uffizi was not renewable, there were Florentines who stopped me in the street and encouraged me to run for mayor. I asked them what needs to be done better and what their problems are and, over time, collected a whole series of observations. I know that Florence has great challenges, from security to over-tourism, but degradation and safety are the main ones.”

Schmidt left the Uffizi in December to take on a four-year posting as director of the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. He said he would request permission from the ministry of culture for leave from the role in order to campaign in the election. If he wins, he would have to step down, but in Naples objections are mounting against his return to the job if he loses.

Gaetano Manfredi, the city’s mayor, told the Italian press he was “perplexed” by Schmidt’s decision. “Returning to the role, after an electoral campaign that will certainly be bloody, means Schmidt would lose the value of impartiality that Capodimonte’s authority demands,” he said.

Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Campania region, said he considered Schmidt’s move “offensive for Naples, for Campania and for the world culture in our country”.

“I find the idea of keeping the management of the Capodimonte in abeyance pending the outcome of the municipal elections in Florence unacceptable,” De Luca said.

Schmidt’s candidacy in Florence spells a genuine challenge for the leftwing parties, which in recent years have lost ground to the rightwing coalition in several key towns and cities in the wider Tuscany region. A poll in March put Schmidt just eights points behind Sara Funaro, the centre left’s mayoral candidate.

Giovanni Donzelli, a politician with Brothers of Italy, said Schmidt’s candidacy was “bad news for the left”.

That he is running with the rightwing coalition is somewhat ironic given the group’s often explicit antipathy in the past towards him and other foreign directors of Italy’s key cultural institutions. Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, who last year said he found it “strange” that so many foreigners were in the top jobs, described Schmidt’s candidacy as “an act that strengthens the unified spirit of Europe”.

In December, when asked about his political leanings, Schmidt told La Repubblica that he considered himself “more as an Aristotelian centrist than a representative of the right”. He added: “I’m a democrat and antifascist. I won’t back down on this, even if I decide to run for mayor.”