Interview with former Rome mayor Ignazio Marino

Wanted in Rome talks to Ignazio Marino, who was the centre-left mayor of Rome from 2013-2015 and is now professor of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

By Marco Venturini

What are your views about the recent electoral campaign for the mayor of Rome and what is your opinion about the winner, Roberto Gualtieri?

I followed the electoral campaign from abroad, and criticised the general vagueness of the candidates. A few weeks before the vote, with the sole exception of Carlo Calenda [leader of the liberal centrist Azione party], they only had generic programmes lacking in detail.

Another serious shortcoming was the public debate between the candidates. At the end of September, a Rome newspaper published a letter from me to the candidates in which I listed what, for me, remain the five priorities for building the Rome of the future. Six years after the end of my time as mayor, it was interesting to read how almost all of the aspiring mayors were in full agreement with my programme for the city.

Unfortunately, many in the election campaign make promises that they don't keep. In 2013, when I was elected mayor with a large majority, 64 per cent of the votes, I was committed to consistently implementing everything I had proposed, starting with the pedestrianisation of many central areas (Fori Imperiali and Piazza di Spagna), the closure of the landfill at Malagrotta, and doubling the amount of recycled  waste collection in the city.

Transplant surgeon Ignazio Marino has returned to his academic work following his tenure as Rome mayor.
As for a judgment on the newly elected mayor, I think it is right and necessary to wait at least six months to evaluate his work. I hope that he thinks about the good of the citizens and the  competance of the councillors.

Recently the outgoing mayor Virginia Raggi apologised for some comments she  made about you when she was mayor. What do you think about this and what is your opinion on the outgoing administration?

I sincerely appreciate the public and repeated apologies of Virginia Raggi. This step of hers, by no means taken for granted, means that we can open a dialogue. She is a strong woman who has accumulated considerable experience after five years as mayor. I was the first to criticise many of her choices in the city government (for example the management of municipal pharmacies, her choice in terms of the Olympics, the wrong assignments for the heads of the administration), but I appreciate her gesture and I wish her well.

What does Rome need and what is the city's main problem?

In my opinion the mayor of Rome should concentrate on the main strategic points: transport, waste, security, urban design and archaeology. Unfortunately, in order for the mayor to be able to make autonomous decisions, changes are necessary in many areas, because at the moment some laws actually prevent the mayor from doing so, because they come under the authority of the region or the central government.

In addition, there has always been a lack of legislation to give Rome special status and funding to fulfill its role as the capital of Italy – as happens in Paris, London and many other European capitals.

Will the new city council meet the challenge?

At the moment, it seems that the first thing is to find an internal agreement among the various groups that contributed to the election of the mayor. This is understandable because these groups haven't had power in the last eight years and now wish to exercise it. I do not judge but I do hope that they try to exercise power as a verb (to be able to do, to be able to change, to be able to innovate), and not as a noun (to hold power).

What actions should be put in place immediately, in the first 100 days?

I think it is important to send at least one strong signal of discontinuity with respect to the previous city government. I closed Malagrotta and pedestrianised Via dei Fori Imperiali – actions that I knew were very controversial but were part of my electoral programme. Today, years later, the appropriateness of those decisions is widely recognised even by the detractors of that time.

Have you ever thought of going back to being mayor?

No, I am very happy with my new life and activities in Philadelphia. I am involved in international projects for Thomas Jefferson University and I have rediscovered the joy and enthusiasm of working with a team that not only doesn't work against you, but supports you to achieve positive results.

Are the everyday problems that Rome has to face only the result of bad administration or are they also the responsibility of the Romans?

The Romans are an extraordinary people, with good and bad chatacteristics. Their irreverent sympathy is often a double-edged sword: it helps them overcome every tragedy but sometimes prevents them from growing. I adore them, but I think that we must work, for example with children in schools, to nurture care for the environment and respect and knowledge of our own surroundings, which are unique and precious.

Marino's successor Virginia Raggi was recently replaced as mayor by Roberto Gualtieri.
I believe that the mayor must administer but also cultivate an idea of the city of the future, and to do this he must involve children. Let's think of a child who today is six or seven years old and has just begun their school career. If the mayor were actively to involve these children in choices within the schools themselves, in ten years' time we would  have young people able to participate in the wider choices of society.

You moved to live in Philadelphia where you work with enormous success. Do you often return to Rome? What are your ties and projects with the city?

I return to Rome regularly, both for work and to see my mother Valeria, who is 99, my sisters and some of my best friends from my high school and college years. On a professional level, I am very happy with the close collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University and my alma mater, Università Cattolica and Policlinico Gemelli, which remain international centres of  excellence.

We have developed a programme together that allows the best students to train for three years in Rome and three years in Philadelphia, obtaining a double degree that allows them to specialise wherever they want, in Europe or in the USA. We are also conducting several clinical trials together. It's good for Rome and for Italy but also for Thomas Jefferson University.

We are a significant reality with 18 hospitals and one of the oldest medical faculties in the USA, but Policlinico Gemelli is not to be underestimated: recently Newsweek ranked it as the best hospital in Italy and number 45 in the world.