Elly Schlein, a 37-year-old American-Italian political operative who has long worked for the left’s two presidential campaigns for former U.S. President Barack Obama, overcame the odds to become the first woman to lead the Democratic Party in opposition in Italy.
Women and young people in the rank-and-file supported Schlein, who unexpectedly defeated Stefano Bonaccini on Sunday in Emilia-Romagna, a historical stronghold for the left.
The party apparatus mostly backed Bonaccini.
Bonaccini received 46% of the vote, while Schlein received 54%.
Schlein warned supporters that they would be “a tremendous problem” for Premier Giorgia Meloni, promising to assist the most helpless people and boost the labor market with better-paying, safe jobs.
On Sunday, the shipwreck deaths of dozens off the coast of southern Italy prompted Schlein to criticize Meloni for her far-right government’s anti-immigration policies, stating that it “weighs on the conscience of people who just weeks before passed a decree whose sole objective is to delay rescues at sea.”
Schlein recommended a system allowing immigrants to legitimately seek entry into every European country and a resurgence of the EU’s humanitarian search-and-rescue mission.
Schlein takes over a severely divided party that embarrassingly failed to mount a viable challenge to Meloni in the elections last fall, forcing the PD’s outgoing leader to resign.
Schlein, an American-Italian raised in Switzerland, left the center-left Democratic Party in 2015 due to disagreements with the course that party was heading in under then-Premier Matteo Renzi.
While running as an independent last summer, she assisted the Democratic Party’s campaign, helped the party narrowly lose the general election while obtaining a seat in parliament, and just recently joined the party as a card-carrying member to compete for a leader.
Schlein, a former member of the European Parliament, had experience in political organizing while working on two Obama campaigns.
She is a supporter of Yanis Varoufakis’ pan-European progressive movement DiEM25. She is frequently likened to the US. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a representative, for her support of social justice.
Schlein was critical in preventing the right from gaining power three years ago in her typically left-leaning province of Emilia-Romagna.
She is well known for questioning League leader Matteo Salvini about his immigration record.
She served as the region’s deputy governor with Bonaccini and was in charge of social justice and environmental policies before being elected to the parliament.