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Rome Defies New Anti-Establishment Mayor With the Same Old Problems

In an interview in a frescoed room in the Capitoline palazzo, Ms. Raggi, 38, defended her first months in office by choosing a metaphor, perhaps infelicitously, with which even her critics would agree. Her administration had dug a hole, she said. But a good hole.

“It’s like building a house,” she explained. “Before seeing the walls coming up, you need to dig a hole to make the foundations.” Now her cabinet was in the building phase, she said.

Opponents have long painted a fragile picture of Ms. Raggi as a hostage to her own inexperience — she was a lawyer who began working at city hall only in 2013 — and to squabbling and division within the Five Star Movement. The party’s co-founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has swooped in repeatedly to buck her up.

This month, a survey published in the newspaper La Repubblica found that 70 percent of Romans disapproved of Ms. Raggi’s tenure, and so did 40 percent of those who had voted for her.

Even with the rise of the Five Star Movement, “The difference between certain attitudes and old-time political parties is little,” Claudio Cerasa, editor of the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, said.

That has not been the case in all the cities the Five Star Movement runs. In the northern, well-functioning city of Turin, where another Five Star candidate, Chiara Appendino, 32, was also elected last year, things are running much more smoothly.

But this is Rome. It is a measure of the dire state the city has languished in for years that Ms. Raggi and her supporters argue that her administration is still better than any other party’s before her. She has simply been dealt an impossible hand, they say.

“In Italy these days, rage comes before any hope for change,” said Marco Damilano, a political commentator and deputy editor of L’Espresso magazine. “It’s not the capital of trust to be dissipated, but that of distrust that remains intact, especially in Rome.”

No one, critic or supporter, would say running Rome is easy. The depths of the city’s malfeasance were amply exposed in 2014 by what is known as the Mafia Capitale investigation, which showed corruption and tainted bidding for a wide variety of city services, including refugee shelters, sanitation and public housing.

“We are cooking with the ingredients that we have,” Ms. Raggi said, referring to the city’s managers — many of whom were hard-working, she was quick to add.

“Rome’s administrative machine was stuck or worked under a flawed logic known to everyone,” Ms. Raggi said, explaining that her staff is trying, almost from scratch, to restore a law-based system for public bids and other municipal services. “Legality needs time.”

Ms. Raggi won 67 percent of votes last year, drawing support from across the political spectrum. Yet even now that she is in power, her erstwhile protest movement remains hard to categorize. Neither Ms. Raggi nor her party fits traditional left-right categories, a fact that has provoked both criticism and confusion.

In particular, analysts say, Ms. Raggi has demonstrated her party’s lingering penchant for protest, for playing on popular anger and for pandering to key constituencies, whether on the left or the right.

“In a way, the Five Star Movement is a huge trade union for those who have been cut off,” said Mr. Damilano, the political commentator. “It’s the rhetoric of those excluded, mixed with leftist and rightist ideologies.”

Maurizio Martelli, 72, who campaigned for Ms. Raggi in the Fifth Municipal District in northeastern Rome, says he is convinced that the mayor could not do much better with the situation she inherited.

“You see those files, right?” Mr. Martelli asked, indicating a dozen colored folders in disarray, half on the floor and half on a desk, in a room on the second floor of a municipal building on a recent morning.

“These guys don’t even know where to look for a file, the predecessors left such a mess,” he said.

Catello Conte, a 92-year-old retired police inspector who voted for Ms. Raggi, agreed, to a point. “The problem is that this city is pure anarchy,” he said.

But even he conceded that there had been problems that neither the past nor the press could be blamed for, and that some of Ms. Raggi’s troubles had been self-inflicted.

Recently, for example, Ms. Raggi joined a kind of rear-guard protest by taxi drivers in central Rome against Uber and car-hire services, even as the demonstrators clashed with the police and threw cherry bombs.

After criticism that it was reckless for the city’s highest-ranking official to appear to foment unrest, Ms. Raggi condemned the violence.

That afternoon, Ms. Raggi visited a theater in central Rome that her administration has started to restore. It was once slated for privatization and then abandoned, and after being occupied by actors and artist groups had become a potent symbol of the left.

Such actions have opened Mr. Raggi and the Five Star Movement to criticism that they are more suited to street protests than the halls of power.

“Was she out of her mind when she went to incite the taxi drivers the other day, who instead of peacefully protesting have set the center on fire?” Mr. Conte asked. “As a mayor, she represents the entire community, as she said after being elected. She is no longer trustworthy, and neither is the movement.”

Ms. Raggi dismisses such criticism and says she has distanced herself from the individuals she had once chosen, who have left her administration.

Like other leaders in populist movements that feel misunderstood on both sides of the Atlantic, she blamed the news media for undermining her with wild attacks. Some months, she said, the Italian news media talked more about her than about the prime minister.

“Rome will never be Amsterdam, full of bikes, or Paris, full of metro lines,” she said. “But it can improve, and we will improve it. People need to be patient.”

Source: NYT > World

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