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Next mayor for Rome? #romasindacosostenibile

May 24, 2013

This weekend Romans will be going to the polls to elect a mayor to replace Gianni Alemanno, the far right-wing politician who has been in power for five years and been mired in scandals from nepotism to budget overruns.  They may not succeed and Alemanno may be re-elected.  Although I confess I haven’t had the time or patience to wade through the bureaucracy to register to vote, although as a foreign resident I am technically entitled to (if I go to some office on the edge of town and wait in the right line with the right certificates) I am not disinterested in the outcome. So who are the candidates opposing him and what are their programs?

I currently count 19 candidates who support (or are supported by?) 40 different “lists” which include candidates for other offices.  Lists with names like “let’s cut politician’s salaries in half” or “Christian militia” or “Italia Reale” (I think I still own a website with that name, an idea for a spinoff of my company Scala Reale).  Or Casapound, the neo-fascist club housed in a palazzo given them by the current administration who paper the Esquiline with illegal posters announcing strong measures to restore respect for the law.

I will only mention a handful of specific candidates who haven’t already demonstrated their disrespect for the city by littering it with flyers and posters, clogging the streets with advertising trucks, or contributing to the mafia of illegal billboards.

In truth, I was optimistic months ago that change was coming to Rome.  I was excited to see what candidates would emerge, what their programs would promise.  But then I started to realize how it works, or doesn’t work. No one knew the date for the election, there is not process to limit the number of candidates, no pre-selection, no enforcement of election spending and advertising laws. Some candidates spend millions and are always on tv while others are never invited, some make blatant lies and get away with it.  Politics, in short.

In a post several months ago on roma sostenibile I invited the mayoral candidates to propose 7 policies or points to transform Rome into a more environmentally sustainable capital. Of the two responses, one (Umberto Croppi) has stepped out of the running. Most of the candidates running didn’t reply which could mean several things. a. they didn’t get the message, indicating lack of promotion on my blog’s part but also a less than attentive campaign staff.  b. they didn’t want to take the time to submit their answers.

Other than the current Mayor, there are 5 candidates worth considering.  Here’s what I know and think about them.

Sandro Medici.  A quick look at the program of Repubblica Romana, Medici’s list, confirms that we see eye to eye.  And Medici was the only candidate still running who responded to the request of Roma Sostenibile, with some good ideas.  His background is very “old left” meaning ex-communist, counter-culture, bottom-up, but his website is up-to-date and uses social media pretty well. In his camp there are people like Lorenzo Romito of stalker and urbanist Paolo Berdini.  Not a bad choice, if there were a chance of him winning.

Alessandro Bianchi. Another accomplished urbanist, founder of ProgettoRoma, he appears about the same generation as Medici, not exactly young, and his program also says the right things. Although ProgettoRoma didn’t respond to the Roma Sostenibile appeal, it also hasn’t offended the city through illegal advertising that I have seen. Which unfortunately means its chances of winning are slim.

Marcello De Vito. The candidate of the Movimento 5 Stelle, Beppe Grillo’s party, is younger and more aggressive, and far more present in the press than the previous two, but it took me a while to find the actual program. But now that I have read it, I’m hooked.  I couldn’t agree more with its aims, and appreciate the specific reference to “transition towns”, to the green economy, and even a proposal for local currency.  We’ve been reading the same books. Now I’m really excited, three great candidates competing against each other and not only.

Ignazio Marino. Seems to be the front runner, the preferred moderate left candidate. Respectable, likeable, professional.  He’s a top surgeon, although this leads me to ask the obvious question, why and how is he planning on running Rome in addition to saving lives.  The program, while respectable, is a bit disappointing in its reliance on spending. For every problem the solution seems to be a new competition, a new position, a new budget item. To make the buses run on time and safely, he calls for new video cameras rather than just enforcing a schedule and firing drivers who don’t perform.  It’s a try-to-please-everyone kind of program. And when I see the first item on the mobility page “la cura del ferro” (rail as a solution) I realize how antiquated this thinking is. But, I can’t say I disagree with most of the ideas, so if Marino wins I’ll celebrate.

Alfio Marchini.  Incredible, here again the program is great, hitting all the right points and presenting them with graphic clarity and conviction.  I’m hooked.  Even if I see his flashy slogans and grinning Mel Gibson face everywhere, and hear that he is rich because of his ruthless developer father, and well-connected in banking, big business (where many of the projects failed but he made out alright) and counts some pretty seedy political leaders such as Berlusconi, Cossiga and D’alema among his friends,   I still would like to see this man in office.

It’s scary, but they’re all pretty good.

But I’m curious, what is Gianni Alemanno, the current mayor saying? The web site is not so sexy, and showcases far more the political aspect of consensus, photos of events, links to supporters, etc. but once I dig through to find the program, there it is: just about the same rhetoric as all the others. Sustainability, Participation, Solidarity, etc. etc.  Great, I’ll support this program, too!

But wait, everyone is saying such great stuff, even the current mayor who has been in power for five years.  But then I look at the current state Rome, which I have not seen in such a state of decay in twenty years. In a strange way it recalls the Rome I first visited in the 80s but then the lawlessness and corruption was endearing, partly because everything was dirt cheap and still pretty provincial.   It would be easy to say that Alemanno has failed; the city is dirtier, more dangerous, less green, more corrupt and just downright more dysfunctional and absurd than it was five years ago, and because this is a blog based on personal observation, I will just say that without feeling the need to back it up with numbers. (I could if I took the time, and many others have). And then it would be easy to say we should replace him with someone who will do the job.

But that’s the problem with politics, no one is ever accountable for very long.  Our memories are short, we see the state of the city but forget how it got that way, we read today’s promises but forget about the unfulfilled ones of times past.  It’s like all the people I know who say this place sucks, I’m going to live somewhere else (I left the US to find the good life in Italy and now spend a lot of time complaining about it).  Maybe it’s time somebody finished the job and was held accountable.

I like all the candidates running against Alemanno, and I tend to dislike Alemanno based on his violent distant past and incongruent administration (I’ve seen lots of law-breaking on the part of his pro-law and order government). But I’m almost ready to say that this blog endorses Alemanno.  All these smart opposition candidates are so divided and divisive with people they really should get along with, they can’t even get organized to run an effective campaign to beat the one right-wing leader (ok, when it gets down to it there will be a runoff between Alemanno and one opposition candidate, but what an inefficient system!).  If they succeed in doing so, it will be out with the old, in with the new, huge learning curve, realignments, spinning wheels while promises are postponed, blame is cast (probably rightly) on the former government, and excuses are made.  But if Alemanno gets re-elected, Rome can keep him in the spotlight and demand that he do the job he was paid for. And of course, since he won’t be running again, he may not be so inclined to distribute jobs and favors and other prizes to his constituents.  He may actually prove that he cares about Rome as he says he does, and start standing up to the “mafia” (his words) that controls advertising, or the other mafia that controls vending trucks, or the corruption within the police force or his friends and relatives in ATAC and AMA who have contributed to the complete failure of the public transit system and the stagnation of Rome’s waste management.

If I hire someone to paint my house and he spends all the money I advance him on favors for friends, holds drunken parties in the living room, orgies in the bedroom and, instead of painting, pastes old sports posters on the walls, I can either fire him and bring in someone new hoping they’ll do a better job, or I lock the door and say hey, you’re not leaving until you fix this, and even after you do there’s no promise I won’t press charges. I personally would insist on the second solution.

I never understood how Romans are so willing to let their elected officials, or in fact all public servants, perform so poorly with no consequences.  Prior to this campaign, I don’t recall any of the opposition candidates doing much to demand that the city perform up to standards, but this is the right of any citizen.  I have no patience for the “if you don’t like it go somewhere else” answer when it comes from someone I’m paying to get the job done.  So if Alemanno should win and stay in office, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve done for years, insisting that Rome function like the fantastic city it could be, and not stand for anything less. Is that too much to ask?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2013 08:19

    This is the best summing up of the current situation in Rome that I’ve read, in Italian or English.

  2. May 25, 2013 09:07

    Awesome post, Tom! Couldn’t agree more.

  3. May 25, 2013 11:41

    Good candidate summaries, but conclusion is too cynical

  4. May 31, 2013 11:43

    Great blog – and hope you enjoy Critical Mass this weekend!

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