New democracy, old tricks Deception: Russian politicians have quickly mastered the art of strategic confusion where candidates' names are concerned.

November 02, 1998|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- This westward-longing city cultivates an image of being eager to embrace democratic principles, and in remarkably little time it has grasped one of the most cherished arts of America's political system: the dirty trick.

Elections are coming up Dec. 6 for St. Petersburg's 50-member city council, and the 16th District is full of eager candidates circulating petitions to run. Four of them are named Sergei Andreyev.

Like generations of Baltimore politicians before them, they have discovered the name's-the-same game.

The 6th District has its own enthusiastic democrats offering themselves up for public service. Two of them are named Sergei Mironov and one is named Alexei Mironov. Another district has three Oleg Sergeyevs.

The city council members operate out of a magnificent building reminiscent of Baltimore's ornate City Hall, only more so. Both buildings have a beautiful rotunda, but St. Petersburg's was a palace finished in 1844 as a present for the czar's daughter. Baltimore's imposing edifice went up a little later in the century, with less opulent means.

In search of the parallels, a call went out Friday from Russia to the Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore's Fells Point. "Miss Kathy if you don't mind waiting a minute," a young man's voice said as he disappeared into the urgent background noise in search of Gene M. Raynor.

Raynor has run elections for years, first as the head of the city's Board of Elections Supervisors, then as head of state elections and now as head of William Donald Schaefer's election campaign for state comptroller.

"They're learning fast," Raynor said about the St. Petersburg race.

He thought back to one Baltimore City Council election in 1962, when William Donald Schaefer filed, and so did Donald William Schaefer. "Of course, everyone knew William Donald Schaefer as Don," Raynor said. "That was back in the Pollack days. We had an awful time getting that fella out of the race."

The Pollack days occurred during the reign of one of Baltimore's last illustrious political bosses, James H. "Jack" Pollack.

He's dead now, and so are the machine politics that he ran as resolutely as any emperor. But the memories live on.

"They might be new at democracy," laughed state Sen. George W. Della Jr., "but they're playing some old-time politics."

Cabdriver wins

Della remembers another Pollack-era maneuver. "He filed a guy named Kaplan, I think. He was a cabdriver, but he had the same name as a well-known candidate. The cabdriver won! He got elected to the legislature, but when he got down to Annapolis he didn't like it and he resigned."

Then there was a DiPietro who won a legislative seat because everyone thought he was Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, the famous East Baltimore politician.

"We've had lots of them," Raynor said. "The very best thing is to confront them right away and try to get them out of the race."

Conflict with mayor

The St. Petersburg candidates will have to do a lot of talking. Something funny is going on in at least five of the races, and the incumbents in those districts all have one thing in common: They have run afoul of the city's mayor, who has the title governor here.

"I could have predicted some dirty tricks," said Sergei Mikhailovich Mironov, the first deputy chairman of the city council, "but I never expected such a large scale."

The five city council members organized and campaigned for a city charter, adopted in January, that expanded the powers of the council -- officially called the Legislative Assembly -- at the expense of the governor, Vladimir A. Yakovlev.

Strategic attack

"The charter was adopted but the administration of the city was very much against it," Mironov said. "Only those deputies who were very involved in that have these doubles in their districts. So we should ask who profits by that."

Mironov stops short of accusing the governor. "It seems the conclusion is absolutely clear," he said, "but I'm sure the governor himself is not the initiator. But there is a great deal of opportunity for people surrounding the governor to produce such initiatives. Maybe they think they will please him. Or maybe someone is setting the governor up."

Mironov thinks there may be as many as nine candidates in his race, and the alphabet will put him at No. 8, after Alexei Yuriyevich Mironov and Sergei Valentinovich Mironov.

Titles count, too

The job title is listed after the name, and the incumbent Mironov's begins "first deputy to the chairman ." Alexei Mironov is trying to get his job listed as first deputy to the chairman of the small company where he works.

"This makes the campaign very difficult," the incumbent said. "I have to explain my program, what I've done and what I hope to do. Then I have to tell voters, 'If you agree with my program, if you are satisfied with my work, please don't forget, my number is eight and my patronymic is Mikhailovich."

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