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‘In Rome, nothing works’: citizens despair in run-up to mayoral elections

‘In Rome, nothing works’: citizens despair in run-up to mayoral elections

Virginia Raggi hasn’t solved waste issues while far-right candidate advocates restoring fascist salute

Elio Perugini can’t remember the last time he had a decent night’s sleep. “It’s a disaster, the noise just doesn’t stop,” he said. “I hardly sleep any more. The worst of it is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.”

Sleepless nights have become the norm for many in Trastevere, a neighbourhood in central Rome once treasured for its charm and old-world feel, but now known for its rowdy nightlife, petty crime, piles of rubbish and graffiti-scarred walls.

The district’s problems are considered emblematic of what Romans repeatedly decry as the Italian capital’s degrado (decay), and as residents prepare to vote in mayoral elections on Sunday and Monday, they are asking themselves once again if anyone is capable of getting a grip on the city.

Perugini has lived in Trastevere all of this life. “It was poorer, but much more liveable. Today it’s richer, but we’re ruined.”

He said he hasn’t decided who to vote for, but it won’t be Virginia Raggi, the current mayor seeking a second term. “Most definitely not Raggi, enough of Raggi.”

‘In Rome, nothing works’: citizens despair in run-up to mayoral elections

Raggi, a politician with the Five Star Movement, became Rome’s first female mayor in June 2016, winning a landslide victory after promising “winds of change”. But it didn’t take long for disappointment to set in as rubbish piled up, ageing buses spontaneously exploded, parks became scrappier and wild boar sightings more frequent.

Raggi has made improvements to the city over the last year, including mending some of its roads. She has introduced cycle paths, electric bikes and scooters, even if the latter have become another menace for the streets as riders use them with abandon.

Raggi also spoke about improvements made to schools and the opening of libraries during a rally in Trastevere last week. But onlookers were in no mood to listen to such achievements, with one woman reminding her of “the streets invaded by rubbish and boar”.

“Trastevere, like other neighbourhoods in central Rome, has become run down for various reasons, from nightlife that is out of control to potholes,” said Fiorella de Simone, a member of Vivere Trastevere, a group of residents who have held protests over the area’s decline while taking it upon themselves to clean the streets. “But it’s got worse in the last few years. I can’t walk out of the front door in the morning without stepping over rubbish. Trastevere is a reminder that there have been no solutions to the problems affecting the entire city.”

‘In Rome, nothing works’: citizens despair in run-up to mayoral elections

But whether those problems will be fixed anytime soon remains to be seen.

Enrico Michetti, a candidate from the far-right Brothers of Italy competing in a coalition backed by Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, was leading in polls before the blackout period began. Michetti, a lawyer and radio host, glorified ancient Rome during his campaign, saying its role as “Caput Mundi” (capital of the world) needed to be restored. He also said that the stiff-armed Roman salute, which has fascist connotations, ought to be revived as it was more hygienic during times of Covid-19.

Behind him in the polls was the centre-left candidate and former economy minister, Roberto Gualtieri.

Raggi was in third place followed by Carlo Calenda, the leader of Azione, described as a liberal centrist party.

But with neither of the four candidates expected to win more than 50% of the votes in the first round, two – most probably Michetti and Gualtieri – will go on to compete in a runoff on 17 October.

For his book, Roma il coraggio di cambiare (Rome, the courage to change), the author Claudio Cipollini analysed the promises made in the election campaigns of Rome’s last five mayors, including Raggi, and compared them with what was achieved.

“I found that what they said during election campaigns didn’t correspond with that they actually did,” he said.

‘In Rome, nothing works’: citizens despair in run-up to mayoral elections

Cipollini also studied the programmes of the current mayoral candidates, with the findings published in a report by Monitoroma, an observatory on the elections.

“The programmes contained some beautiful ideas for Rome, but nobody said when and how they will carry out their promises let alone how much money they will need,” Cipollini said. “Some themes were handled better by some, and badly by others. Some candidates have long-term visions for the city, others don’t.”

Cipollini said the main problem is the “incapacity of the public administration to manage a modern city”.

Before Raggi took the helm, Rome was also a city where progress had been hindered by decades of inefficiency and corruption, leaving her saddled with €13bn worth of debt.

“Raggi has done a few things over the last year or so but she hasn’t solved the waste collection or public transport problem, and the parks are still a mess,” said Cipollini.

“In Rome, nothing works, and I think politicians need to realise that politics is not enough to get things done. They need to know how to organise and manage all of these difficulties and move the city forward.”


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