Mayor of Rome Is a ‘Good Guy’ From Philly

Living in Philly was an inspiration for mayor of Rome

Giacomo Sillari

President Barack Obama called him a "good guy from Pittsburgh" on Friday. We got to know him as a "good guy from Philadelphia," the day before. But the country of Italy usually just calls him the mayor of Rome.

A day before meeting with the president of the United States, Mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino met with us, discussing how his life in Philadelphia has influenced the changes he's making in Rome as mayor of Italy's capital city.

And while giving a hat-tip to Philly for inspiring many of his initiatives, Marino repaid the favor by giving Philadelphians encouragement and advice on the prospect of having Pope Francis visit the city in 2015.

"I understand there is a chance that Pope Francis will fly to Philadelphia," Marino said, referring to the World Meeting of Families in 2015. "That would be terrific, it would be a great experience. He is a man with a lot of charisma, a lot of simplicity, he goes straight to the point...I really hope and pray that this happens."

There's no better man to ask about such things, as this mayor of Rome knows well the work of coordinating traffic, security, and public safety for Papal audiences in Rome. All the while, he has a great affection for the next U.S. city the pope may visit.

A former transplant surgeon and professor of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who lived in the U.S. for 20 years, Marino fondly remembers the six years of his life in the City of Brotherly Love.

"I obviously miss a lot Philly," Marino said Thursday. "I particularly miss Jefferson and the place I used to live on Society Hill and the great restaurants in town."

Elected mayor of Rome in 2013, Marino has begun multiple initiatives in Italy's capital city that point directly back to his experiences in Philadelphia.

The most obvious example is his effort to reduce traffic in Rome by creating bike sharing and car sharing programs. Rome's "Car2Go" has cars available 24 hours a day, and with a free smartphone app anyone can find the cars close to them for use around Rome. Sound familiar?

"I was inspired by [Philly Car Share]," Marino said.

Marino said that one day, in his first year of living in Philadelphia, he was looking to buy a new car with his daughter.

"We were almost ready to pick the color of the car and then we said, 'Why do we need a car?'" Marino said. "That was almost 14 years ago, and from that time I do not have a car."

The ease of public transportation, the ability to ride his bike anywhere, and the convenience of car sharing in Philadelphia made Marino the first mayor of Rome who goes everywhere by bike.

"From that time I began to think about alternative means of getting around in town, and this is something that I am trying to import to Rome," Marino said. "I go around [Rome] with a bike, with no security around me, and we are investing in huge changes in public transportation and alternative ways of moving around town."

And it's not just promotion of pedestrian-only areas and the reduction of traffic through car and bike sharing programs that Marino credits to his time in Philadelphia. Heading the grand Roman city of culture, art, archaeology and history, Marino took some pointers from Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation as to how to use technology to make the experience richer and more convenient for visitors.

"What we are trying to do in many museums here and downtown is exactly what was done at the Barnes museum -- have a free app that you can download on your smartphone," Marino said. "You put your headset on and you can walk through and be guided through the museum as you do at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia."

The idea of renting space in museums for private events also came from him seeing it done in Philadelphia, bringing "a new economy based on culture," he said.

Even the new project to build a soccer stadium in Rome, in a partnership with the U.S., makes Marino think of Philly. Why? Well, when it comes to the intensity and love for sports - Italian and Philadelphian fans, "Oh, they are the same," he said laughing.

So why did the man who was personally thanked by the President of the United States last week for his work in Pittsburgh as the director of the only liver transplant center owned by the U.S. government, who performed liver transplants to more than 100 Vietnam veterans, decide to become the mayor of Rome?

"The challenge," he said.

Even that sounds like there might be a little Philadelphian grit behind it.

As for his favorite restaurant to go to when he visits his former home, don't expect an Italian restaurant recommendation. We suppose that's like getting a burger in Florence.

"Morimoto," he said. "If I want a good dish of spaghetti I know how to make it by myself, while I'm not capable of preparing a nice plate of sashimi."

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