Last summer, in anticipation of a fall trip to France and northern Italy, I Googled each city I’d be visiting and “Rochester” to see if I might find local connections. “Paris” and “Avignon” produced no hits, but Googling “Genoa, Italy” turned up this Wikipedia entry: “Marco Bucci (politician).”
Who, I wondered, is Marco Bucci and what is his connection to Rochester?
Bucci, it turns out, is the current mayor of Genoa—birthplace of Christopher Columbus and today a vibrant city of population 675,000. Before he entered politics, Bucci worked for 17 years at Kodak and the former Kodak division now called Carestream Health.
I wanted to meet Bucci and hear about his time in Rochester. I was also curious about his thoughts on the current debate in the U.S. over the legacy of Columbus.
Some Americans—including many Italian Americans—see Columbus as a hero whom we should celebrate for his achievements as a navigator and explorer. Others—including many Native Americans—link Columbus to attacks on indigenous people and, many years later, the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. In 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, statues of Columbus in many American cities were defaced, toppled, or removed. The controversy over Columbus, the Wall Street Journal recently noted, turns on whether Columbus “should be celebrated or sidelined.”
Following the federal policy under President Joe Biden, the city of Rochester this year observed Oct. 12 as both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
As Genoa’s mayor, Bucci has weighed in on the Columbus debate. In a recently published article in a Genovese newspaper, Bucci disapproved of American mayors who have removed Columbus statues and discontinued Columbus Day. “It is totally unacceptable, and I will not give into the cancel culture,” he wrote, “especially when it concerns one of our illustrious fellow citizens.” In personal letters to several U.S. mayors, including Ben Walsh of Syracuse, Bucci took a more conciliatory tone, encouraging mayors to work with “all local stakeholders” in a spirit of “constructive dialogue” and cooperation.
In mid-August, I emailed Bucci’s office requesting an in-person interview. Within 24 hours, this reply arrived: “please note that Mr Mayor Marco Bucci will be available to meet You in Genoa.”
I met Bucci in late October at his office in the Palazzo Doria-Tursi, a noble’s palace built in 1565 in the historic center of Genoa, and which now houses city hall. Two uniformed police officers were stationed outside the Palazzo. One took me in through a side entrance and, by way of a complex series of stairs and elevators, showed me into the mayor’s office.
As it was a weekend morning, Bucci was dressed casually in maroon shirt, dark blue outdoor vest, and baseball-style cap.
“So, you’re from Rochester!” he said, in greeting.
An edited transcript of our hour-long conversation appears below. But first, some background on this former Rochesterian and now Italian political leader.
From Genoa to Rochester
Born in Genoa in 1959, Marco Bucci earned master’s degrees in chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Genoa. In his mid-20s, he began work with a 3M Italian subsidiary researching new molecules that could be used for medical imaging. In 1994, he was hired by 3M USA and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to work as product manager in the company’s division of medical imaging. Five years later, Kodak bought the 3M division. Bucci initially worked for Kodak at a lab in Italy, not far from Genoa, but in 2004, he and his family—wife, Laura, and young children, Matteo and Francesca—moved to Rochester where Bucci would serve as chief technical officer for Kodak’s Health Group.
The family bought a house in Pittsford on Thomas Grove, a cul de sac near Knickerbocker Road and Route 64. When old enough, the kids attended Pittsford schools. Laura Bucci volunteered in schools and also taught Italian. Marco Bucci became active in organizations of Rochester’s Italian American community. He also pursued a lifelong passion—sailing—and enjoyed many days on Lake Ontario on friends’ boats and joined the Rochester Yacht Club.
In 2007, Kodak sold its medical imagining division, a business that later became Carestream Health. Bucci was named president of Carestream’s Medical Film and Media Division but would base himself and family in Genoa. He sold his Pittsford home and for the next nine years commuted to Rochester twice a month—about 23 trips per year, he estimates—spending about 10 to 15 days in Rochester each month.
In 2016, when he left Carestream, his plan was to retire—with lots more time for sailing his 52-foot boat. But friends encouraged him to run for mayor of his hometown.
“I had a lot of good in my life and it was the right time to give something back to my community,” he told me. Bucci ran, and within 18 months of leaving Carestream, was elected mayor. Five years later, having earned a reputation as an effective administrator—he’s sometimes referred to as “manager-mayor”—Bucci was re-elected for a second five-year term.
ROCHESTER BEACON: So, how did you like living in Rochester?
MARCO BUCCI: My wife and I really had a very good time over there; life in Rochester is so easy. Our house in Pittsford was the best house we had in our life: 6,000 square feet, front yard, back yard, three-car garage—and very cheap, by the way, compared to the price of Italian homes.
Life in the United States is much easier than any other place in the world because bureaucracy is at a minimum. You guys complain about bureaucracy but please remember that you are in paradise; you are in heaven. You don’t even know what bureaucracy means compared to life in Europe.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How about those years when you were commuting from Genoa to Rochester twice a month?
BUCCI: Well, yeah, some of it was tough, but probably it’s the reason I’m still married. Every time I went back to Genoa it was a honeymoon, but then after three, four, five days my wife started saying, “When you are leaving? When’s the next trip?”
ROCHESTER BEACON: You’re described on Wikipedia as a “center-right” politician. How would Americans understand “center right”? Is it equivalent to Republican?
BUCCI: Yeah, pretty much, but I’m just on the border with the Democrats. For some things we are really more Democrat than Republican, especially when we talk about helping the community in terms of safety, health care, and these types of things.
ROCHESTER BEACON: You are sometimes described as a “manager-mayor.” What does that mean?
BUCCI: Exactly, and this is true. Most mayors are politicians, and their main goal is to be re-elected. I’m not really a politician and this is not my goal. My goal is to make sure that things actually get done even if they cannot be finished during my term.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Let’s talk about Columbus. Your office is just a short walk from Columbus’ birthplace and Genoa has at least three or four statues of Columbus. But I’ve read that in the U.S. recently, no fewer than 33 statues of Columbus have been defaced, torn down, beheaded, put in storage, or thrown in rivers.
BUCCI: I totally disagree with this kind of behavior. Columbus was an explorer. Others actually came to America first from the north—the Vikings—but Columbus’ main achievement was understanding the winds and proving you could sail for a long time using winds from the same direction. The crew was astonished. There’s a page in his book talking about this. They never had two months of the same wind from the same direction. And he discovered also the way to come back. That was the strength of his discovery and the reason he was famous.
ROCHESTER BEACON: So, what is it that people in the U.S. who condemn Columbus don’t understand?
BUCCI: It’s right and good that people condemn slavery and the slave trade—this has to be understood by everybody. What’s wrong is that they consider Columbus one of the guys who mistreated native peoples. That was not true historically. There were a bunch of other explorers who did that. Fighting against those others to me is acceptable, but doing that from a historic standpoint is not acceptable. In a word, it doesn’t make sense.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What motivated you to write to American mayors?
BUCCI: We donated to Columbus, Ohio—our sister city—a statue of five meters in bronze in 1956 with a big celebration. The statue was in front of the city hall. And then they actually decided to take it down and put it in a warehouse. And I wrote to the mayor saying that this is not acceptable. I understand that it’s difficult to stand in front of everybody saying, “Guys, you’re wrong,”—I fully understand that. But with the help of the Italian community and people who understand what’s real and what’s the real meaning of Columbus’ activities, we can restart.
Cancel culture to me is wrong by definition. You cannot cancel things that have been done in the past. What you need to do is understand what has been done, try to understand the reason and learn the lesson. The good things done in the past can be repeated; the bad things should not be repeated.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Are there other examples of that in history?
BUCCI: Look, the Romans were here 2,000 years ago. They did a lot of bad things. They used to terminate people when they went to conquer another region. Are you familiar with decimation?
ROCHESTER BEACON: Decimation?
BUCCI: If the Roman army lost any kind of battle, as a punishment the captain lined up all the members of his army who were still alive on a bridge and counted 1,2,3,4,5,6 . . . to 10, and the 10th person he pushed off the bridge. It was execution.
Do you think that’s appropriate? That was stuff that was done 2,000 years ago, but we don’t complain about the Romans. The Romans did a lot of good things, creating civilization. I mean you don’t cancel the Roman culture. You just understand what the Romans did. If it was good things, you learn and try to repeat it; if it was bad things, you learn and don’t repeat it.
That’s why the cancel culture to me doesn’t make any sense and why I wrote the American mayors. As mayor of Genoa, I thought it was appropriate to try to convince mayors of cities in the U.S., especially cities with big Italian communities or with a monument of Columbus.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What kind of reaction did you get?
BUCCI: Actually, good reaction. I sent one of my council members over to Chicago and they made a big (Columbus Day) parade. And we had a good exchange with the mayor of Syracuse.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Any negative reaction?
BUCCI: No, absolutely. I had a video conference with the mayor of Columbus, and I went there four years ago—just before COVID. We have a very good relationship. Some people from the Columbus delegation will arrive here at the beginning of December.
ROCHESTER BEACON: So, in Rochester we’re now observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as well as Columbus Day.
BUCCI: I don’t have any problem with the Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It’s actually good. I have a problem if they cancel Columbus Day. If they do both of them, great.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Do the people of Genoa know about what’s going on with this issue in the U.S?
BUCCI: Oh, yes. Pretty much everybody understands what’s going on in the States. They are absolutely not in favor of the cancel culture. In Italy we are used to (having) this kind of political steam coming up like crazy and after two, three years it disappears. We have the far left here, too, including Communists. Every time I say something, the far left says no. Even if I say something to help people, they don’t care; as long as I say it, it’s bad.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Rochester has had its share of problems lately, including high rates of violent crime. So far this year we’ve had nearly 60 homicides. Given your years of experience now as a mayor of a city of comparable size, any advice for our current mayor?
BUCCI: We’ve got the same issue in our downtown. We don’t have any murders—well, probably one every year or so—but still there are robberies, drugs, this kind of thing. We have small and narrow streets where criminals find it easier to do crime than in other places. After improving education in the schools, the next thing we do is fill these downtown areas with people—people living and shopping. So, for example, we are trying to make three or four streets into an open mall so people can go there and there’s no room for drugs. We pay small shops all their rent for five years to open in these areas in order to populate them. If you have more people, then physically there’s no room for crime. You also need a lot of police—a large physical presence of police.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Any plans to come back to Rochester?
BUCCI: I’d love to get back to visit, but I’ve got four more years in my term, and then we’ll see.
ROCHESTER BEACON: If you did visit, any special things you’d want to do?
BUCCI: See my friends in the Italian community. My wife and I had good times there, always a bunch of people for Friday evening happy hours. And I’d sail. I’m still a non-resident member of the Rochester Yacht Club.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Why do you keep up that membership?
BUCCI: Because I love it. I’ve got friends there. I’d love to sail again in Rochester.