Former Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt’s Mayoral Campaign Soldiers On in Florence

His campaign within an Italian right-wing party is in the next phase of a run-off election.

Eike Schmidt Director of Gallerie degli Uffizi museum gives a speech during the ceremony of inauguration of the Uffizi's Royal Mail Palace Restored at Uffizi's Royal Mail Palace on January 21, 2023 in Florence, Italy. Photo: Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Getty Images.

The German-born ex-director of the Uffizi Galleries, Eike Schmidt, is still in the fight to become Florence’s next mayor after a first round of voting over the weekend put him firmly in second place behind leading candidate Sara Furano. As neither received more than 50 percent of the vote, the pair will go head-to-head in a run-off election scheduled for June 23 and 24.

In the first election, Schmidt received 33 percent of the vote. He stood as an independent candidate backed by both center-right and populist parties such as Lega and Fratelli d’Italia, which is currently in power under prime minister Giorgia Meloni. Last month he said he was “positively impressed” by the far-right leader and praised her as “very strong and pragmatic,” in remarks to the Guardian.

Schmidt is trailing some distance behind the leading candidate Furano, of the center-left Democrat Party, who got 43 percent of the vote. If she wins, she will replace current mayor Dario Nardella, who has served his maximum of two terms in office. Historically, the city of Florence has tended to lean center-left, so Schmidt’s candidacy was always considered to be a long shot.

According to the Corriere Fiorentino, Schmidt is ready to rise to the challenge. “The game is very open,” he commented, noting that in other regions of Tuscany, some candidates have managed to overtake their opponent during a run-off election. “It’s absolutely possible,” he said.

The other mayoral candidates failed to get the 10 percent of the vote necessary to make it to the second round.

Last December, Schmidt was selected to direct the Capodimonte museum in Naples, from which he is currently on leave in order to concentrate on his mayoral campaign. Speaking to the Financial Times, Schmidt openly admitted to treating the Capodimonte as a Plan B. He added that the real challenge will be attracting footfall, since “not even Italians know about it.”

If he loses this month’s election, will Schmidt be welcome back at the Capodimonte? His decision to flee the museum so soon after starting his tenure in January has not curried much favor back in Campania, the region surrounding Naples. Local president Vincenzo De Luca said he found Schmidt’s decision “offensive” and “unacceptable.”

To add insult to injury, Schmidt’s campaign has caused controversy for disparaging southern Italy with the slogan “Florence is Not Torre del Greco,” used in a pamphlet detailing his plans to make Florence cleaner and greener. The town Torre del Greco, which sits outside Naples, is often considered to be unkempt and crime-ridden.

Should Schmidt make into the hallowed halls of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s historic seat of power, he will be moving just next door to his old workplace. Between 2015 and 2023, he helmed the Uffizi Galleries after being appointed as part of former culture minister Dario Francheschini’s big push to introduce more foreign talent into top leadership positions at Italian museums.

The tide has since turned on foreigners with a wave of right-wing populism. “Why do I have to put a foreign director at the Uffizi? Have you ever seen a foreigner go to the Louvre?” Italy’s former undersecretary for culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, said last year. Schmidt, whose wife is Italian, became a naturalized Italian citizen last November.

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