Rosario Crocetta, who made his name by standing up to the mafia and surviving three assassination plots, is poised for officehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/29/sicily-gay-governor-rosario-crocetta?newsfeed=true
Tom Kington in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Monday 29 October 2012 17.53 GMT
Political candidate Rosario Crocetta during his campaign. Photograph: Francesco Bellina/ Francesco Bellina/Demotix/Corbis
A gay man who shrugged off three mafia plots to kill him is poised to become Sicily's first homosexual governor in elections that show the centre left advancing at the expense of Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing party.
Representing a coalition of Italy's centre-left Democratic Party and the Catholic UDC party, Rosario Crocetta is leading against the Berlusconi candidate and a contender representing the maverick movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, who trails in third place.
Crocetta, a devoted Catholic, has long claimed that southern Italy is surprisingly relaxed about gay politicians, once stating, "There is a great respect for the individual, making it less homophobic than the north."
In August he told an interviewer, "After leaving prison in England, Oscar Wilde took refuge in Palermo. Seen like this, there is lot people have to learn about the south."
As mayor of Gela, Crocetta persuaded local businesses not to pay protection money to the mafia and claimed that coming out gave him a sense of liberation that allowed him to understand how suffocated Sicily had become under the mafia's yoke.
One mob boss who hired a Lithuanian assassin for a failed bid to kill Crocetta was less than tolerant of his sexuality than voters, describing him in a wiretapped call as "this queer communist".
A local magistrate said at the time: "The clans may ridicule Crocetta's sexuality, but it's the backing he gave businesses that refuse to pay thepizzo [protection payment] that really drove them mad."
Crocetta has suggested that a surprising number of members of Cosa Nostra are themselves gay, claiming, "The idea that the mafia is all church, home and shotguns makes me laugh."
Palermo magistrate Antonio Ingroia has said he believes there are a number of gay bosses, adding "It remains a taboo since they are scared of being ejected from the mob."