Moscow's Chicago boss Yuri Luzhkov: Tough and popular mayor makes Russia's overcrowded capital work.

August 28, 1996

YURI LUZHKOV may not be a household name in the West, but he should be. As Moscow's popular mayor -- who was recently re-elected with an astounding 90 percent of the vote -- he is one of Russia's most powerful men and a potential candidate to succeed President Boris N. Yeltsin.

For students of American urban affairs, the 59-year-old Mr. Luzkov is a recognizable figure because he bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Richard J. Daley, the legendary Chicago boss and mayor. His administrative style is also similar: Mr. Luzhkov may mouth democratic slogans but he decided long ago that things work only if someone is clearly in control. Thus he is a somewhat benevolent autocrat in a society that has always respected brute force.

Although Moscow introduced a revolutionary urban plan in the 1930s, the city grew in a helter-skelter fashion after World War II. In 1960, its population was still 1 million; today, after annexations of nearby towns, it is 10 million.

With speed and determination that are unusual in Russia, Mr. Luzhkov has tackled Moscow's problems. The amount of new construction is impressive. Mr. Luzhkov has forged alliances with Russia's new capitalists and there are rumors that he receives his cut from contracts. Tongues went wagging when he hosted an evening at an opulent French restaurant near the Kremlin for a group of cronies and paid the $30,000 check with cash.

As the recent elections showed, though, Muscovites appreciate the effectiveness of the Luzhkov administration. Few details seem to escape the mayor's attention as he tours the city and offers his views on everything from architectural design to work ethic.

Mr. Luzhkov combines his energy with quite a bit of showmanship. Unlike most Russian men, he is not a drinker. But he swims in the Moscow River during winter cold spells and sports an ordinary workman's cap. He is a pragmatic political leader who deserves attention.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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