ROME (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - Voters have resoundingly rejected the re-election bid of Mayor Virginia Raggi, of the Five Star Movement, who swept into power five years ago promising change but was unable to turn around the degradation of services and quality of life that has become a hallmark of the capital.
Instead, Ms Raggi, the first woman to govern Rome and its youngest mayor, became associated with the city's decline, earning her - and her party - a national reputation for incompetence.
Italy's four largest cities - Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin - and more than 1,000 smaller centres held mayoral elections on Sunday and Monday, with a run-off due in two-weeks' time in cities where no candidate reaches 50 per cent.
Centre-left candidates are seen winning without the need for a run-off in the financial capital Milan, Naples and Bologna.
The centre-left had been expected to sweep up in most of the cities, but the margins of victory are larger than forecast.
The outcome is a setback for Mr Matteo Salvini and Ms Giorgia Meloni, respective leaders of the rightist League and Brothers of Italy which dominate a conservative alliance that leads at national level, according to opinion polls.
It also confirms the decline of Five Star, whose shock victories in Rome and Turin five years ago paved the way for its triumph at 2018 national elections when it was the largest party with 33 per cent of the vote.
Ms Raggi, speaking to supporters at a hotel in downtown Rome late on Monday (Oct 4), appeared to concede defeat.
"As they say in Rome, I took on the most difficult part of the job, and I did it with conviction," she said. "Now those who come after me have no more excuses for not doing a good job, and we're going to be watching them closely."
She lagged well behind the two leading candidates: Mr Enrico Michetti, a lawyer supported by several parties on the right, and Mr Roberto Gualtieri, a former finance minister and the candidate of a centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party.
With most election districts counted, Mr Michetti had about 30 per cent of the vote and Mr Gualtieri 27 per cent.
Mr Carlo Calenda, a rival to Mr Gualtieri to be the centre-left standard-bearer, and Ms Raggi each had more than 19 per cent.
With no candidate winning more than half the vote, Mr Michetti and Mr Gualtieri will compete in a run-off election Oct 18.
Ms Raggi told her supporters she would not openly back either man.
"The vote is free," she said. "Votes are not packages to move around, nor are citizens cattle to be taken to pasture."
Ms Raggi was once a bright spot in the firmament of Five Star, an upstart anti-establishment party that had charmed Italians who were jaded with the country's political class. But the city's problems piled up on her watch, as did uncollected garbage, attracting swarms of sea gulls, crows and even hungry boars.
A pothole epidemic saw no fix in sight.
Public buses caught on fire, and some cyclists complained the bike lanes Ms Raggi had installed were unsafe and poorly maintained.
Then, on Saturday night, just hours before polls opened, a 19th-century bridge in a trendy Rome neighbourhood caught fire.
Investigators and experts are looking into the causes of the fire, but the metaphor of Rome burning was not lost on Ms Raggi's critics.