People

New mayor vows to restore Rome to its former glory

Ms Virgina Raggi, Rome's first female mayor and its youngest ever, waving to supporters at the Campidoglio Palace last Thursday.
Ms Virgina Raggi, Rome's first female mayor and its youngest ever, waving to supporters at the Campidoglio Palace last Thursday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Virginia Raggi confident she can raise funds to solve the city's waste and corruption woes

ROME • After taking Rome in a landslide victory and becoming the city's first female mayor, Ms Virginia Raggi told her supporters that she was not crazy about the Italian term for "lady mayor", or sindaca, media reported.

"If you like, you can just call me Virginia," Ms Raggi told reporters after sweeping into City Hall with two-thirds of the votes cast in a election run-off last week.

Ms Raggi, who will turn 38 on July 18, is also the youngest Rome mayor, according to Italian news site Ansa. "I will give everything I have to restore Rome to the beauty that it deserves," she said in a post on her Facebook page.

A civil lawyer specialising in copyright and new technologies, Ms Raggi is described by colleagues as "precise, determined, and a stickler for detail", Ansa reported.

She has a seven-year-old son with radio director Andrea Severini, who reportedly brought her into the anti-establishment M5S party.

REBUILDING ROME

Citizens have shown they want changes... we shouldn't underestimate this desire. I always said that Rome will change if the Romans change. It will take time because we don't have a magic wand. We have inherited a city that is crumbling, but I'm confident we can turn the tide.

MS VIRGINIA RAGGI, Rome's first female mayor.

Taking office last Thursday, she said her first act as mayor would be to send a letter seeking clarifications about the functioning of the city's much-criticised public transport and refuse and street-cleaning departments.

She had pledged to get buses and trams running on time, clean up rubbish-strewn streets and fill the potholes that pockmark much of the capital. Sceptics say she has taken on a "mission impossible" given the city's perilous finances and deeply ingrained resistance to change, both in the administration and among Romans themselves.

But she believes she can raise more than €1 billion (S$1.5 billion) a year for flagging public services with a crackdown on waste, mismanagement and corruption.

In her first interview as mayor she said she was confident she could find the cash needed to implement the programme of the M5S party.

"We will start to tackle the problem of the large sums of money being wasted, which amount to €1.2 billion per year," she told Euronews, adding that she would also seek to renegotiate the terms of the city debt, which she put at €13 billion to €16 billion.

M5S is hoping a successful Raggi administration in Rome can provide a springboard for a tilt at national power in a general election due by 2018. Analysts suggest Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will do everything to ensure she fails.

Ms Raggi said she was willing to work with the premier. "(Renzi's) Democratic Party was very harsh towards me during the electoral campaign, but as far as I am concerned there isn't a problem. We'll start from scratch and work in the interest of Rome and its citizens."

Asked how she intended to root out corruption following revelations that city hall has been infiltrated by organised crime, she promised scrupulous enforcement of the law on public tenders.

She also said she intended to work closely with the National Anti-Corruption Authority, which recently analysed 1,500 contracts signed by the city and found 90 per cent of them had been awarded without due process.

While there is little doubt that Rome has been badly managed for years, some problems are down to the citizens themselves.

One in four passengers on buses and trams has not bought a ticket. One in five citizens does not pay the local tax that funds garbage collection.

But Ms Raggi maintains Romans are ready to help her turn things around: "Citizens have shown they want changes... we shouldn't underestimate this desire. I always said that Rome will change if the Romans change. It will take time because we don't have a magic wand. We have inherited a city that is crumbling, but I'm confident we can turn the tide."

Ms Raggi takes over from a government commissioner who had run the city since late last year after the then mayor quit over an expenses scandal.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'New mayor vows to restore Rome to its former glory People'. Print Edition | Subscribe