Sick of weeds and trash piles Rome to elect new mayor

ROME -- Curbside weeds in Rome grow so tall, they cover car door handles, giving new meaning to the term urban jungle. With sidewalks impassable because of piles of uncollected trash, people resort to pushing baby strollers down the middle of pothole-pocked streets. Overflowing garbage bins attract wild boars, terrifying passersby. As for mass transit, some subway stations in the commercial heart of the city, awaiting sorely 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 sorry state of basic municipal services such as trash pickup and street maintenance is a major issue in this city of ruins, just as it was the first time around. In 2016, Raggi was a 37-year-old, little-known lawyer and city council member when elected. She quickly became one of the most prominent faces of the 5-Star Movement, a grass-roots populist phenomenon created a decade earlier by an Italian comic, and, as of 2018, the largest party in the national Parliament. Raggi's election “was hailed as something savior-like. Great change was expected,'' said Paolo Conti, who for years has curated a letters-to-the-editors section, not surprisingly heavy with citizen complaints about trash and public transportation, in the Rome pages of the national newspaper Corriere della Sera. After five years of Raggi's administration, plagued by frequent turnover of city commissioners and heads of public agencies, ”objectively, the city is in worse shape" than when she arrived, Conti said in an interview.“Worse” is particularly damning, considering that when Romans elected her, they were desperate. They had taken to cleaning up Rome themselves, neighborhood by neighborhood, park by park, bagging trash, filling potholes and passing the hat to pay gardening businesses to pull weeds in playgrounds. Romans then didn't even have a mayor. 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 candidates for mayor this time is given any real chance of clinching more than 50% of the vote. That means the top two finishers will meet in a runoff 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 of Raggi, though a large percentage of people said they were undecided. Nadia Titti, walking her dog in an overgrown field near towering low-income public housing in Tor Bella Monaca, a neighborhood on the city's eastern edge long considered the turf of drug dealers, said Raggi didn’t get her vote the first time and won't get it now. Titti lamented that people from other neighborhoods where garbage is piling up have taken to dumping their broken appliances and other trash along Tor Bella Monaca’s streets. Others argue Raggi deserves a second mandate.

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