Dhe sparrows have been whistling from the rooftops for weeks, now it's official: Eike Schmidt, long-time museum director of the Uffizi in Florence, wants to become mayor of the capital of Tuscany.

Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.

The art historian, who was born in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1968, told journalists and onlookers on Saturday during a “walk” in early summer weather in the old town of Florence: “The moment has come.”

Schmidt is married to an Italian and only took Italian citizenship in August 2023. He does not belong to a party himself, but will run as a candidate from several conservative and centrist forces, namely with the support of the three coalition partners of the center-right coalition in Rome under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni: Meloni's right-wing conservative party Brothers of Italy, the Christian Democratic Forza Italia of Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani and the right-wing national Lega led by Transport Minister Matteo Salvini. The local elections in Florence will take place on June 8th and 9th, at the same time as the European elections across Italy.

Can Schmidt pose a threat to the left?

Florence and “red” Tuscany have always been bastions of Italy’s political left. The career of the former “political prodigy” Matteo Renzi began in the capital of Tuscany: From there, first as president of the province of Florence and then as mayor of the metropolitan city with today around 364,000 inhabitants, the charismatic representative of the moderate wing of the Social Democrats rose to the top Prime Minister in Rome and led the Partito Democratico (PD) to historic election victories across the country.

The Tuscany region with the capital Florence continues to be governed by the PD; the Social Democrats were able to fend off the last “major attack” by the combined forces of the center-left camp in the 2020 regional elections. The mayor of Florence since 2014 has been Dario Nardella (PD), who enjoys great popularity but is no longer allowed to run after two terms in office. A victory for the center-right camp in Florence would be tantamount to a political earthquake.

Eike Schmidt was director of the Uffizi, one of the most visited museums in the world, from 2015 until the end of last year, where he proved himself to be both a competent manager and an accessible art historian. Under his leadership, the museum continually recorded visitor records and generated large surpluses. Since January he has been director of the Capodimonte National Museum in Naples. However, he maintained his residence in Florence with his family and commuted between the capitals of Tuscany and Campania. The art history graduate's previous positions also include museums in Washington and Los Angeles. He holds an honorary professorship at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Schmidt criticized the worsening security situation

Schmidt was one of six possible candidates from the center-right parties in Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's coalition, but had been considered the favorite for months. He describes himself as a “man of the political center” and is expressly committed to the anti-fascist tradition of the Republic of Italy. For the coalition in Rome and especially for Prime Minister Meloni, Schmidt is the best possible candidate for the symbolic position in Florence: a naturalized Italian with a migrant background, a lover of Italian art and a liberal way of life.

In a kind of pre-election campaign, Schmidt has criticized the deteriorating security situation and everyday crime in Florence in recent months and has had many a calculated argument with Mayor Nardella and his city government. Schmidt also denounced the city cleaning and garbage collection services, which many Florentines criticized as inadequate, as well as the dilapidated infrastructure and traffic chaos. Schmidt has also called for measures against “overtourism” in Florence on occasion, even though he himself held a key position in art tourism in Tuscany for eight years and thus further boosted tourism.

In recent surveys, 32 percent of respondents were in favor of Schmidt as mayor, even though he was not yet an official candidate at the time of the survey. Sara Funaro, 47-year-old candidate of the social democratic PD, is in the lead with 40 percent approval, but the gap between the two main competitors to succeed the outgoing incumbent Nardella has narrowed in recent months. A neck-and-neck race between Funaro and Schmidt is likely to develop between now and the election date; other candidates have little chance of winning the election. The outcome of the alleged duel Funaro against Schmidt is considered open.