ROME – Pigs root through garbage piling up in a working class neighborhood. City buses improvise routes on streets clogged with triple-parked cars. On rainy days, muck-choked sewers make crossing the road a Herculean labor.
Ignazio Marino promised to bring order to Rome's chaos when he was elected mayor in a landslide last year. Instead, critics say the liver transplant surgeon is the affliction not the cure — and are pressuring him to resign.
The biggest challenge Marino faced upon winning office was tackling Rome's notorious traffic gridlock. His first major move? Banning cars on the boulevard flanking the Roman Forum so tourists have a more pleasant stroll, strangling Rome's center even more. The ban enraged residents and shopkeepers, whose streets became bottlenecks of detoured traffic.
Then Marino hiked parking meter fees, an unpopular move among Romans who have abandoned the capital's strike-prone mass transit system in droves. But what has really poisoned the Roman mood is that after enforcing his big idea on parking fees, Marino was himself repeatedly caught in traffic violations with his bright red Fiat Panda — and allowed fines to pile up unpaid.
Ordinary Romans can drive into the historic center only with an annual permit that costs hundreds of euros. Marino this summer drove his Fiat into the heart of Rome after his own permit had expired. Tickets, eight of them, accumulated — as Marino blamed careless aides for failing to renew the permit. Anger only increased when a national TV program caught the Panda parked in a no-parking zone near the Senate.
Even members of Marino's own Democratic Party have begun to give him the thumbs down, worried that he could damage Premier Matteo Renzi, who heads the party. Marino's office turned down interview requests for this story.
"Resign, resign!" Romans hooted recently when Marino stepped into Julius Caesar Hall atop the ancient Capitoline Hill for a city council hearing about the Panda debacle.
"Buffoon! Buffoon!" they heckled, some protesters wearing bright red clown noses.
Struggling to be heard, Marino struck a defiant tone: "I read about my resignation," he told the hearing packed with spectators, "and to tell you the truth, I smiled." He scoffed at what he called a "morbid fixation with my car" and vowed that instead of quitting, he would forge ahead with healing Rome after "years of neglect."
Marino revealed during the raucous hearing that he eventually paid the fines, even producing receipts for more than 1,000 euros ($1,250) to prove it. But as the catcalls continue, he struck a more contrite note — apologizing to Romans and pleading: "I hope you stop calling for my resignation."
The people do not appear to be in a forgiving mood. An opinion poll found only 20 percent of Romans support Marino. Perhaps more embarrassing: The person who commissioned the survey was the head of Marino's own local Democratic Party, who then made public what were supposed to be in-house findings.
Recently, Marino was blasted for being slow to visit the working-class neighborhood of Tor Sapienza, which had seen several days and nights of violence by residents opposed to a refugee center. Marino at the time was in London, trying, he later explained, to "put Rome on the world's map." When he did show up days later, locals angrily surrounded him. He sought to defuse tensions by sitting down with neighborhood representatives, but anti-Marino protests have sporadically hit the city outskirts.
"He doesn't really smell the mood of the city," said Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor who is president of John Cabot University in Rome. That may be an understatement; some commentators have nicknamed Marino "the Martian."
To the mayor's dismay, the Panda flap has overshadowed some real accomplishments. This fall he inaugurated several stations in a subway construction project that had been years behind schedule. He also shut down a trash dump that locals, worried about their health, had long wanted closed. The dump is owned by a local businessman with powerful political connections.
In his City Hall speech, Marino linked his unpopularity to his willingness to take on special interests and fight corruption.
Romans also play a role in their city's mess.
They have a habit of dumping large items like old mattresses and broken TVs by the curb, instead of calling the municipal sanitation service for free pickup.
Follow Frances D'Emilio on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio