Orlando started by appointing a talented team of commissioners and municipal company leaders with strong professional credentials to tackle the city's ills. He emphasized qualifications over connections when assembling his team, and commissioners had to be free of Mafia affiliation. The team worked to fulfill Orlando's campaign pledge of a "safe and normal city." Mafia influence and corruption were tightly woven into Palermo's government and culture; the job was to disentangle the two. Cosimo Scordato, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-Mafia activist in Palermo, described the mayor's thinking: "Orlando wanted people to think Palermo was a normal city and functioned like a normal city, one that did not work through clientelistic networks [and] where you don't have to call friends or neighbors to pay bills or get the buses to run or turn on the lights. That's a true antidote to the Mafia -- to make the city work by itself."
Historically, Sicily has been known for its ornate, two-wheeled, horse-drawn carts -- a bit of local folklore that Orlando seized upon to describe his governing philosophy: "An image that occurred to me early in my own fight against the Mafia was of a cart with two wheels, one law enforcement, and the other culture," Orlando said. "If one wheel turned without the other, the cart would go in circles. If both turned together, the cart would go forward." Italian courts and police began cracking down harder on the Mafia during this period, so Orlando claimed primary responsibility for the cultural wheel.
Reclaiming Palermo from the Mafia meant rehabilitating public spaces, arts and cultural activities, opportunities for entrepreneurship and tourism, and schools. Such investments would help restore a sense of community or civic identity, foster business confidence and job creation, enhance public safety, and help reduce the criminal network's revenue streams.
Spearheading a culture of legality meant cutting relations with the Mafia at every turn. Orlando's team did this in part by adopting hiring and bidding practices aimed at limiting nepotism, patronage, and collusion, and by making their opposition to the Mafia clear and public. In addition, the members of his government made themselves easily accessible to citizens by engaging in frequent dialogue with civil society and religious groups, as well as scholarly and business communities. Orlando and his team also borrowed ideas liberally, pushing company heads and commissioners to learn from other parts of Italy and Europe, and importing innovations that would make Palermo comparable to other well-run European cities.
A number of initiatives were advanced to enact the vision of a "safe and normal city." Orlando commissioned a restoration plan for Palermo's historic city center to counteract the physical decay of the city. To pay for these projects, his administration attracted many European grants and also used national, regional, and city funding. Important public spaces were no longer in the hands of the Mafia, and illegal construction subsided. Led by the Historic City Center Commission, the government renovated or reacquired 158 churches, 400 old buildings, 55 monasteries, and seven theaters, many of which had been marked for demolition -- the most notable of the Commission's projects was the restoration of the Teatro Massimo. Orlando's administration supported many other cultural improvements, such as restoring a 16th-century Gothic church, creating a new cultural and performing arts center, and organizing a series of open-air concerts, called Café Concerto. The concerts were extremely popular and attracted thousands of residents onto Palermo's streets at night, bolstering the administration's progress in "taking back" the city after dark.
The administration's education reforms focused on moving classrooms out of Mafia-owned property and strengthening the curriculum to enhance students' and parents' civic consciousness and city pride. In one innovative program, "Adopt a Monument," students received "adoption" certificates for each monument they agreed to restore and maintain. Students interviewed local experts and residents about the monuments' histories, designed brochures, produced videos about the monuments, and offered tours. More than 25,000 students adopted 160 churches, castles, public and private historic sites, villas, towers, schools, cemeteries, theaters, railway stations, private chapels, fortresses, parks, fountains, streets, and neighborhoods. By the time Orlando's administration ended, about 60 percent of the monuments had been restored and reopened, and 20 percent were under restoration.