Roadside weeds in Rome grow so tall that they cover car door handles, giving new meaning to the term urban jungle. As sidewalks are impassable due to unclean piles of garbage, people resort to baby strollers in the middle of streets full of potholes. Overflowing trash cans attract wild boars, terrify passers-by.
As for public transport, some metro stations in the city’s commercial heart, awaiting badly needed escalator repairs, have been closed for months.
Rome’s first populist mayor, Virginia Raggi is running for a second term in an election Sunday and Monday, and the deplorable state of basic city services such as garbage collection and street maintenance is a major issue in this city in ruins, just like it was the first time.
In 2016, Raggi was a little-known 37-year-old lawyer and city council member when he was elected. She quickly became one of the most prominent faces of the 5 Star Movement, a popular populist phenomenon created a decade earlier by an Italian comic and, in 2018, the largest party in the national parliament.
Raggi’s election “was hailed as something of a savior. A big change was expected, ” said Paolo Conti, who for years organized an unsurprisingly letters to editors section dealing with citizen complaints about waste and public transport, in the Rome pages of the national newspaper. Corriere della Sera.
After five years of Raggi administration, plagued by frequent turnover of city commissioners and heads of public agencies, “objectively the city is in worse shape” than when it arrived, Conti said in an interview.
“Worse” is particularly damning, given that when the Romans elected her, they were in despair. They had taken to cleaning up Rome themselves, neighborhood by neighborhood, park by park, packing up trash, filling up potholes, and passing hats off to pay gardening companies to pull weeds out. in playgrounds.
The Romans did not even have a mayor at the time. Raggi’s predecessor, a surgeon turned politician, had resigned months earlier amid an expense account scandal in which he was later vindicated.
None of the 22 mayoral candidates this time has a real chance of winning more than 50% of the vote. This means that the first two will meet in a second round two weeks later. Several polls, whose publication is banned in the last two weeks before the election, have indicated that at most 15% of voters want five more years from Raggi, although a large percentage of people have said they are undecided.
Nadia Titti, walking her dog in an overgrown field near massive low-income social housing in Tor Bella Monaca, a neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of the city long considered drug traffickers’ territory, said Raggi hadn’t got his vote the first time and had won now don’t understand.
Titti lamented that residents of other areas where garbage is piling up have started to throw their broken appliances and other trash on the streets of Tor Bella Monaca.
Others argue that Raggi deserves a second term.
Flavia Vauro, 21, was too young to vote in 2016, but can’t wait to vote for Raggi. “Mistakes were made, but there were also many achievements,” she said.
Vauro, a college student, cited the brand new buses she takes to campus, instead of the older vehicles that are known to break down or catch on fire. “In the last five years there has been a tangible change” for the better, said Vauro.
Raggi and her rivals campaigned heavily in Tor Bella Monaca and other low-income neighborhoods. She owes her populist victory in 2016 largely to the voices of these outlying districts, and she proclaimed herself “mayor of the outskirts”.
“In those five years, I have worked a lot on the outskirts,” Raggi said recently.
She boasted of having installed streetlights for the first time in some of these neighborhoods. During one of her appearances in one of these “outskirts,” she recalls, “people came out of their buildings with tears in their eyes” as a sign of gratitude.
Raggi gets on the defensive about the uncontrollable weeds. Since 2000, no new gardener has been hired by the city, and when it took office, “they didn’t even have the tools” to do their job properly taking care of the many parks and other green spaces in the city. Rome, she said.
As for the denigration by citizens of the municipal garbage collection agency Ama, Raggi said that when she became mayor, Ama was a debt-ridden mess. She had “13 years of falsified balance sheets. We have worked a lot to clean up their finances, ”she said.
Yet in January, Ama cut funding to local districts to cut the weeds.
When traffic virtually subsided in the first strict months of Italy’s pandemic lockdown, road crews had a rare opportunity to work 24/7 to fill potholes in crater shape without causing blockages. But the lockdown is over and the holes largely remain, tripping scooter riders, sometimes with fatal results.
Asked about long closures of entire metro stations for maintenance work, Raggi replied, “You can’t order a new escalator on Amazon. ”
Three years ago, an escalator at a central metro station got out of control as Russian football fans, in town for a game, took it and several people were injured.
In Tor Bella Monaca, some residents have expressed satisfaction with Raggi’s campaign to evict undeserving tenants from social housing. A police raid in September, for example, eliminated a suspected drug dealer linked to organized crime.
After this eviction, “we breathe better,” said Tiziana Ronzio, who lives in social housing and has created a tenants’ association to promote pride in their building and their neighborhood.
Still, Ronzio gave the mayor a mixed opinion. Raggi “didn’t make the city run well,” she said. But she quickly added: “Whoever becomes mayor will have a hard time. “
AP journalist Andrea Rosa contributed to this report.