Rome Mayor Loses Re-Election Bid, a Defeat for Five Star Movement

ROME — Voters on Monday resoundingly rejected the re-election bid of Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi of the Five Star Movement, who swept into power five years ago promising change but was unable to turn around the degradation of services and quality of life that has become a hallmark of the capital.

Instead, Ms. Raggi, the first woman to govern Rome and its youngest mayor, became associated with the city’s decline, earning her — and her party — a national reputation for incompetence.

Speaking to supporters at a hotel in downtown Rome late on Monday, Ms. Raggi appeared to concede defeat.

“As they say in Rome, I took on the most difficult part of the job and I did it with conviction,” she said. “Now those who come after me have no more excuses for not doing a good job, and we’re going to be watching them closely.”

She lagged well behind the two leading candidates: Enrico Michetti, a lawyer supported by several parties on the right, and Roberto Gualtieri, a former finance minister and the candidate of a center-left coalition led by the Democratic Party.

With most election districts counted, Mr. Michetti had more than 30 percent of the vote, Mr. Gualtieri 27 percent and Ms. Raggi just under 20 percent. Carlo Calenda, a rival to Mr. Gualtieri to be the center-left standard-bearer, had about 19 percent.

With no candidate winning more than half the vote, Mr. Michetti and Mr. Gualtieri will compete in a runoff election on Oct. 18. Ms. Raggi told her supporters that she would not openly back either man.

“The vote is free,” she said. “Votes are not packages to move around, nor are citizens cattle to be taken to pasture.”

Ms. Raggi was once a bright spot in the firmament of Five Star, an upstart anti-establishment party that had charmed Italians who were jaded with the country’s political class.

But the city’s problems piled up on her watch, as did uncollected garbage, attracting swarms of sea gulls, crows, and even hungry boars. A pothole epidemic saw no fix in sight. Public buses caught on fire, and some cyclists complained that the bike lanes the mayor had installed were unsafe and poorly maintained.

Then on Saturday night, just hours before polls opened, a 19th century bridge in a trendy Rome neighborhood caught fire. Investigators and experts are still looking into the causes of the fire, but the metaphor of Rome burning was not lost on Ms. Raggi’s critics.

Municipal elections were held on Monday in over 1,000 Italian cities and towns, but it is not yet clear what they mean for national politics. The next parliamentary elections could be more than a year and a half away.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, an independent and the former president of the European Central Bank, has broad support in Parliament, but low voter turnout may be a reflection of general disaffection among the electorate. Only 48.8 percent of Rome’s electors went to the polls, about ten percent less than five years ago, and the national average fell just short of 55 percent, the lowest ever.

Ms. Raggi’s fate was, in part, a reflection of her party’s. Five Star has hemorrhaged support since triumphant national elections in 2018, when it won the largest share of the vote and formed part of the governing coalition.

“It’s one thing to promise changes when you’re in the opposition, another to transform them into effective policies when you’re in the government,” said Roberto Biorcio, a professor of political sociology at the University of Milan at Bicocca. “In this sense, she followed this downward trajectory.”

In Rome, disillusionment with Ms. Raggi grew as she failed to build a strong team, frequently replacing top cabinet members, which paralyzed administrative decisions.

“It was the continuation of a trend of the deterioration of the city,” said Giovanni Orsina, the dean of Luiss University’s School of Government.

“Rome’s problems are all still there,” after five years of Five Star government, he said, citing the garbage crisis and the city’s notoriously ineffective transport system. “And now the bridge caught fire ahead of the elections.”

Support for the Five Star Movement also eroded in other cities. In Turin, another big win for the party in 2016, its mayoral candidate finished a distant third.

But center-left lists where the Five Star and Democratic Party were allied won their races outright in closely watched races in Bologna and Naples, giving a boost to former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was elected president of the Five Star in August. He has been pushing for these alliances, putting him on a collision course with more orthodox Five Star members who remain grounded in their anti-establishment roots.

The outcome in various cities “suggests that where the Five Star and Democrats joined forces they can obtain some good results,” Mr. Biorcio said.

Ms. Raggi may have lost her job, but she still has clout within Five Star, after being elected last month to the party’s governing body. And at 43, she is still young.

“After being mayor of Rome for five years, it will be hard for her to go back to being a lawyer,” said Professor Orsina. “Now she’ll try to see if she’s able to parlay a different political future in the Five Star Movement.”

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