Voters in Rome this week gave their mayor the boot, demanding a new start.
The ancient city, “La Grande Belleza” (The Great Beauty), has been falling apart, as more than a few residents see it. And the past few days have seen things literally go up in flames. Fire destroyed Rome’s famous Iron Bridge over the weekend. Then Monday night, 30 municipal buses in a parking lot burned in almost apocalyptic scenes that left little clarity about what actually went down but which were rife with symbolism.
“The fire is a metaphorical image for the disaster that is Rome. Just like ancient Rome. Burning,” said an exasperated Barbara Lessona, a mother, businesswoman and citizen activist. Along with an army of about a thousand other Romans who love and cry for their city, Lessona spends much of her free time taking matters into her own hands. Hands that get very, very dirty. She cleans parks and streets regularly with brigades of volunteers. Lessona was doing this before outgoing Mayor Virginia Raggi was elected five years ago on a wave of hope attached to the young fresh face of the anti-establishment mayor from a brand new political movement.
But, Lessona feared things have only gotten worse since then, and she worried the city has become a rudderless ship. Raggi is out. It is not clear who will run Rome next, as a runoff needs to take place between the two candidates still standing.
Raggi votes at the polling station for the local elections in Rome, Italy, October 3, 2021. Around 14 million people from 1,342 cities and towns in Italy elected their mayors, city and municipal councils on October 3rd and 4th. EPA
“It’s a tit-for-tat politcal situation. It was a vote of anger, and not passion. Unfortunately, the last five years have killed the city because Raggi’s way of governing the city was saving money and not spending money. To make a city beautiful, you have to invest, you have to involve the citizens who have been totally crippled.”
Lessona said she thought the city has been drowning in bad blood in a sort-of Bermuda Triangle engulfing the city hall, regional and local politicians and residents.
When Raggi entered office, there was a scandal called “Mafia Capitale” in which city hall officials were found to have worked with or as organized crime gangs to milk city coffers. Public transportation was in freefall, symbolized by a subway zipping through underground tunnels in the summer of 2015 with a door perilously wide