The Woman Who’s Conquered Rome

Virginia Raggi may not be the Amal Clooney of Italy, but she’ll do. And now she’s set to be the mayor of the Eternal City. (In truth, not a job many people want.)

06.06.16 4:00 PM ET

ROME — If VirginiaRaggi becomes mayor of Rome in a run-off election on June 19 it will be the first time in the city’s 2,769-year history that a woman has led the eternal city. And if first-round voting on Sunday is any indication, it looks like history is about to be made.

Raggi, 37, is a lawyer and grassroots activist who cut her teeth as a public defender for juvenile delinquents. Her noble career, her intelligence and her beauty have led the Italian press to frequent comparisons with Amal Clooney.

Raggi is estranged from her husband, who works in radio and played no part in the campaign. She has a seven-year-old son, and she grew up in the leafy suburbs of the city, far away from the daily grind of the often very gritty Italian capital.

She is courteous and polite, something few associate with true Romans, whose battle call is a guttural “oi” in local dialect. But she is no lightweight. Among other things, she drives a serious motorcycle—a 650—which is not exactly a Vespa, and she does it in full leather.

Raggi admits to being a non-practicing Catholic, which should put her on par with most of her constituents. “I am very Roman,” she told The Daily Beast at a recent political rally. “I may not seem like the classic Roman, but you can bet I am.”

She represents the anti-establishment, Europe-hating Five Star Movement, the political party headed by former comedian Beppe Grillo, who has said he would set himself on fire if Raggi loses the mayoral race. (We don’t really believe him, but, then, it’s a virtual certainty she’ll win in any case.)

Raggi’s campaign fundraising events have included serving up pizza for €20 a pie in Rome’s middle-class neighborhoods where daily life has become unbearable. “Corruption has ruined everything, this is the main problem,” she said recently at one such fundraiser. “Every city in the world tries to apply the law, why can't we?”

Thus far, Raggi’s only political experience has been as a council member on Rome’s city government, but she says that is what makes her most qualified. “Experience in Italy belongs to the parties who have ruined Rome and the country,” she told The Guardian recently.

Raggi’s campaign platform has centered around the daunting task of trying to make Rome livable again, after several scandals that have nearly led to the collapse of the city, and which meant the political death knell for her predecessor Ignazio Marino who was forced out of office after he helped expose the so-called Mafia Capitale organized-crime ring that had infiltrated the city government.

Raggi’s campaign promises have been noble, including the implementation of diaper services to try to reduce garbage in the city’s overflowing landfills, and improving public transport by actually making people to pay to ride the buses, which is rarely enforced now.

She says her city council members will be prohibited from using personal credit cards on their expense reports, and she hopes to re-launch the failed bicycle exchange sharing program as a way to reduce mind-numbing traffic. This time she promises to have better locks so all the bikes aren’t stolen like last time.

“We have to bring legality back, something that in Italy, in Rome, isn’t there,” she said at a press conference last month.

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Raggi also opposes the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics, which she says would be “criminal” considering much of the city is “drowning in traffic and pot holes.” Her opposition has brought harsh criticism, since Olympics bring money and many businesses in the capital would love the opportunity to spend it on renovations.

She even supports an anti-euro barter system that would help low-income families enjoy a better life, based on the super-successful Sardinian secondary scheme called Sardex.

Her critic,s including Roberto Giachetti, the man from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party who she will face next Sunday in a run-off election, criticize her ideas as naïve. “It’s not her lack of experience that’s a problem, it’s her lack of awareness,” Giachetti said at a rally last week.

Still, she handily won the first round of voting on Sunday with 37.4 percent of the vote against Giachetti’s 22.6 percent, and the rest, including 7-months-pregnant Giorgia Meloni from Silvio Berlusconi's center right party, trailing behind.

If Raggi wins next Sunday, she won’t only make history, she might even make a difference in a city that has all but given up.