Pressure builds on Rome’s new mayor amid claims of ‘garbage coup’

Virginia Raggi has come under fire for not dealing with piles of rubbish in the Eternal City

 

The rubbish is mounting up along via Galvani, in the heart of Rome’s trendy Testaccio neighbourhood. Wine bottles litter the pavement. A graffitied dumpster is filled to the brim – and one blue bag of rubbish has drifted out on to the sun-filled street – leaving locals to wonder when it will ever be picked up.

“Rome is a great capital but it’s a dirty city, everyone can see this,” said Antonella Innocenzi, a 32-year-old café worker from across town. “The other day I went to throw my own garbage out and I had to jump over piles of rubbish. I was a bit disgusted.”

Romans like Ms Innocenzi have for years been frustrated with the gradual decay of sanitation services in the Eternal City. But this summer the Italian capital’s piles of rubbish have turned into a big political fight between Matteo Renzi’s ruling Democratic party and the populist Five Star Movement.

In June, the Five Star Movement’s Virginia Raggi decisively won mayoral elections in Rome with a vow to clean up the city – literally, by launching a serious effort to collect trash, and figuratively, by removing corruption and mismanagement from the provision of basic services.

Election promise

But just six weeks into the job, Ms Raggi has struggled to match her promise on both fronts when it comes to garbage collection. Not only has she been incapable of turning the city pristine – which may have been too much to ask – but she has also come under fire for hiring Paola Muraro, a former consultant to Rome’s heavily indebted and often derided sanitation agency called Ama, as her top environmental adviser.

The appointment prompted senior politicians from the PD to launch an all-out assault on the new Five Star mayor, including calls for her resignation, though Mr Renzi himself has sought to stay out of the fray.

“During the campaign the Five Star Movement were so presumptuous in professing their honesty and their quick solutions,” Ettore Rosato, a PD politician, wrote on his Facebook page. “Once they arrived in government, the music changed.”

The Five Star Movement has fought back aggressively. Ms Muraro denied that her consulting work, worth more than €1 million over more than a decade, posed any conflict of interest. She also claimed that unnamed plotters had performed a “garbage coup” to ensure that “nothing changes” under Ms Raggi.

Speaking before the city council this week, the new mayor strongly defended Ms Muraro saying suggestions she should step down were “ridiculous”. But Ms Raggi also sought to explain the main reason why rubbish collection seemed such an intractable problem: Rome has struggled to find places to dispose of its waste.

“We are paying for a disastrous policy on waste management over the last 20 years,” she added.

Still, in a sign of the mounting pressure on the new mayor, Beppe Grillo, the comedian who founded the Five Star movement – and two other party leaders – were forced to pen a joint statement in support of her. “The mayor and all her councillors are working with their heads down to make the city clean, orderly, functional and alive again,” they wrote on the party blog on Thursday. “There isn’t just garbage to wipe out but an entire rotten system.”

Referendum

Paolo Pistolesi, a 38-year-old bar owner on Via Galvani, does not necessarily blame Ms Raggi for the current troubles. “She just got here, it’s not simple to fix large and calcified organisations.”

But Massimiliano Rosichetti, a 45-year-old taxi driver, says he voted for Ms Raggi, and is “disenchanted” with politics generally. “It’s a big mess, no one takes responsibility for it. Raggi has been here for two months but we’ve been going on like this for 25 years,” Mr Rosichetti says. “Pretty soon we’re going to be using gas masks.”

(– The Financial Times)