Virginia Raggi: Rome’s first female mayor

After 2,800 years of being ruled by emperors and popes, Rome is finally being managed by a female.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Rome's newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi, of 5-Star Movement, gestures during a news conference in Rome

Rome has a new mayor, and she’s female.

Virginia Raggi was elected on Sunday as the Italian capital’s first female mayor.

Hailing from the populist 5-star movement (M5S), Raggi won the election by 67 percent of the vote against Roberto Giachetti of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (DP).

Beside Raggi being the first female mayor, she is also the youngest in Rome’s 2,800 year history.

Virginia Raggi, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement's candidate for Rome's mayor, arrives for an interview with Reuters in Rome, Italy on May 19, 2016.

The 37-year-old lawyer was born and bred in Rome.

She grew up in the Saint John Lateran area close to the Colosseum and historic centre.

She was a studious child and a stubborn one, by her own account.

"I was a curious young girl, interested in many things, but very focused, as I am today. Determination never failed me."

She likes to spend her time hiking, swimming and skiing, according to her website.

Political Campaign

She started her campaign five years ago as a political novice.

She was impressed at M5S’s founder Beppe Grillo’s declaration of war on the establishment and traditional political parties.

The movement's anti-corruption theme struck a chord in Rome, where the previous centre-left mayor was forced to resign last year over an expenses scandal only months after it emerged the city had been haemorrhaging cash to organised crime.

Raggi told AFP it was the birth of her son Matteo that convinced her she had to do something about the state of a city blighted by potholes, uncollected rubbish and failing public transport.

A theme she exploited throughout her campaign.

She was derided by some commentators as woefully unqualified for the job of resolving the city's huge problems.

But she won over voters with her programme for cleaning up the administration, presenting her ideas in the crisp and sober manner of a patient academic.

Virginia Raggi, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement's candidate for Rome mayor, poses with a supporter during a fundraising event in Rome.

Rome's hard-to-please citizens appear to have embraced the University of Rome graduate, admiring how she never flinched under attack from her opponents.

After feisty exchanges in one televised debate, she softened her tone and appealed to voters with a simple message, "If you want nothing to change, vote for them".

The Challenges Ahead

In an administration rocked by serial scandals, the new mayor will have to prioritise transparency in all dealings.

This will have to be achieved in cooperation with the national anti-corruption authority.

Other priorities include an improved public transport system with an increased number of buses and trams, more reserved lanes for buses and taxis, a clampdown on double-parking and measures to encourage cycling.

Raggi wants to reduce the numbers of Roma and Sinti people staying in camps around the capital via a survey of their assets.

Anyone with property elsewhere will be asked to leave.

Rome has a crippling municipal debt burden of more than $13.5 billion.

Raggi has not mentioned how she plans to reduce this burden beyond ordering an audit of city finances.

Raggi has also been vague about streamlining the city's 60,000 workforce, notorious for chronic absenteeism.

On any given day, one in five employees is not at his or her desk.

One of her biggest challenges though, will be convincing the city she can act independently, despite signing a contract with M5S in which she pledged to toe the party line and consult it on all major administrative decisions.

"Four or six eyes are better than two" she said in defence of that arrangement, while insisting she will be very much her own woman.

TRTWorld and agencies