ROME – Matteo Renzi is a fast talker, fast-mover who has rocketed to the peak of Italian politics after being tapped Monday to try to form Italy's next government. Here's a fast look at what distinguishes the Democratic leader from the rest of Italy's political class.
WHERE DID HE COME FROM?
Renzi is a politician from Tuscany with — in his own words — oversized ambition. Just a decade ago, he was elected to his first post, president of Florence province. In 2009 Florentines elected him their mayor. His campaign slogan in the local Democratic Party primary for that post: "Either I change Florence or I change careers."
CLAIM TO FAME
If Renzi succeeds in cobbling together a coalition government, he will, at age 39, be the youngest premier among the dozens who have led often "revolving door" governments in Italy since the end of World War II. Detractors who consider Renzi power hungry note that Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was the same age in 1922 when asked by Italy's king to put together a Cabinet.
Renzi raised eyebrows last month when he cut a deal on crucial electoral reform with his party's arch enemy — Silvio Berlusconi, the disgraced former premier now banned from holding public office because of a tax fraud conviction. One reason why Berlusconi ventured into the enemy's den: Renzi's not a former Communist like many prominent figures in the Democratic Party. Berlusconi loathes Communists.
Baby-faced Renzi is one of a handful of Italian politicians in the postwar era who wasn't serving in Parliament when asked to form a government. For many Italians fed up with the entrenched and largely geriatric political class that's a breath of fresh air.
Like many of his fellow Tuscans, he has a sharp tongue. He also speaks in sound bites Italians can readily understand instead of the often convoluted sentences Italian politicians favor to avoid saying much of substance.
One of the hashtags Renzi coined that has entered everyday Italian lingo is "rottamare," a verb meaning "consign to the junk heap." Renzi is vowing to chuck Italy's sclerotic politicians who vow to get Italy working again but never do. When he gave the heave-ho to outgoing premier Enrico Letta, a fellow Democrat, jokes popped up saying Renzi had gotten carried away and sent his own ally to the junkyard.
Renzi credits his many years in the Boy Scouts for his leadership qualities. Critics, stunned by how he promised Letta he'd never take power without elections, then ousted the premier a few days later, wisecracked that Renzi might come up short in the Scouts' loyalty quality department. Another hero is Tony Blair. Months before Renzi won his party's leadership, Renzi paraphrased the former British prime minister, saying: "I love all the traditions of my party, except one: losing elections."
In Florence, he darted between mayoral appointments the way many Florentines move in their Renaissance city — on bicycle. Since becoming the top Democrat in December, Renzi has been commuting on the "Freccia Rossa" (Red Arrow) high-speed trains that link Florence to Rome.
The chauffeur-driven dark blue sedans that politicians use to cruise around Rome have long become a hated symbol of what people see as a parasitic political class. Renzi has shunned such trappings of power — at least until recently. He was spotted this week being driven in a dark sedan when he came to party headquarters to pull the plug on Letta's coalition.
NO. 1 ADMIRER
While Renzi has many enemies in his own center-left camp, he appears to have one unlikely fan on the right: Berlusconi — who has described Renzi as the only politician out there who would be able to beat him in elections.
THE RENZI LOOK
White shirt, sleeves rolled up, no jacket, no tie — unless, maybe, when you're meeting the president. For TV talk shows, snug, low-fitting dark jeans, a short black leather jacket and short boots. Another must: cell phone in hand to tweet with even while you're giving a televised speech.
Follow Frances D'Emilio on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio