Five things to know about the battle to be Rome's next mayor

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Three of the candidates at a public debate in may. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
10:43 CEST+02:00
With the first round of voting in Rome's mayoral elections taking place on Sunday, it's time to brush up on why the elections matter.

1. Rome's a mess
Italy's capital has more than 12 billion euros of debt. Forty percent of its streets have potholes and there is no money to fill them in. Transport and refuse services have been cut to the bone while absenteeism from public offices is rife. The gelato is still great but the citizens of the Eternal City are fed up.

2. Cronyism and sleaze
Rome is still reeling from the revelation in late 2014 that City Hall had been infiltrated by organized crime. Dozens of local politicians, businessmen and city officials arrested at the time are now on trial for skimming off millions and rigging public tenders in a scandal known as Mafia Capitale. Historians says the scandal reflects decades of endemic cronyism and sleaze.

3. The last mayor quit
Rome has been run by a government appointed prefect since previous mayor Ignazio Marino quit in October. Marino was forced out over a minor expenses issue after helping to expose the Mafia Capitale scandal. Observers say the surgeon paid the price for being unpopular with both Romans and his own Democratic Party (PD), leading to him being cut loose by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

4. Change in the air
Marino's legacy is seen as having hit the centre-left PD's chances of reclaiming the mayor's office. But the right, traditionally strong in Rome, will not necessarily benefit. The front-runner to be the new mayor is Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer from the populist Five Star movement. The party founded by comic Beppe Grillo hopes to use Rome as a platform for an assault on power at the national level.

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5. A woman at the helm?
With Raggi heading the opinion polls and the equally glamorous Giorgia Meloni well-placed among a plethora of right and extreme-right candidates to join her in the second-round run-off, Rome could be on track to elect its first female mayor. If it does, it will join a growing club of major cities run by women that already includes Barcelona, Cape Town, Madrid, Paris and Santiago, Chile.

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