‘We’re begging. What else can we do?’ The humiliation of the Moscow mayoral race’s ‘municipal filter’
On the evening of June 26, at the Moscow Municipal Council building, mayoral hopefuls met for a second time with municipal deputies to give speeches and try to convince the elected officials to endorse their candidacies. According to the city’s “municipal filter,” in order to appear on the ballot in September, mayoral candidates need the support of 110 deputies: at least one deputy in 110 different municipalities across Moscow. Candidates have until July 3 to rally the necessary signatures, and there are another two gatherings with municipal deputies scheduled before the deadline. Even before the June 26 meeting, opposition candidate Ilya Yashin announced that he won’t be able to overcome the municipal filter. Incumbent Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and several others who say they’re running for mayor didn’t bother to attend Tuesday’s event. Meduza special correspondent Taisiya Bekbulatova, who's been following the candidates’ meetings with Moscow municipal deputies, did make the trip.
When the meeting started at 7 p.m., several dozen people were lining up at the pass and registration office on Uspensky Lane. Organizers had only booked a room for 150 people, but twice as many showed up.
Standing in the crowd beyond the gates, twisting in the wind, were two mayoral candidates: former State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov and Sergey Mitrokhin, who’d just filed a lawsuit against the federal bureau of Yabloko, his own political party (after it revoked the Moscow branch’s decision to nominate him for mayor). “I hope I’m able [to win the lawsuit]. Rulings tied to the elections should have a quick turnaround,” Mitrokhin said. Both candidates are counting on endorsements from United Russia municipal deputies, though the party has said it doesn’t plan to “share” in this race.
Mitrokhin said he’s already collected signatures from 50 municipal deputies. “Well, what else can we do? So now we’re begging. What’s the alternative? This is impossible without some help from United Russia. Why kid ourselves?” he admitted, adding that “it’s very hard to get people to the notary.” Dmitry Gudkov said he’s managed to get “about 60 districts.” “The rest are all over there,” he explained, nodding in the direction of the Moscow Municipal Council building.
In the end, it was Moscow City Duma deputy Leonid Zyuganov (the grandson of the Communist Party’s leader) who rescued Gudkov and Mitrokhin from the line. Before they could enter the building, however, they had to wait for a silver Mercedes to pass through the gates. The car turned out to be carrying another mayoral candidate, Anton Krasovsky, and a few of his volunteers. “I don’t understand why Krasovsky is in a car. He can’t get around on foot or something? Like a normal mayoral candidate?” asked his rival, Gudkov, before shouting, “Anton, c’mon, move it! We’re all waiting on you! Our people don’t take a cab to the bakery!” Lowering his window, Krasovsky said he’d ordered a parking permit in advance, explaining that he wasn’t to blame if certain other individuals were less well prepared.
When the meeting began, the first to speak was a currently unemployed man named Vladislav Buzarov, who claimed to represent “The Party of Life, Goodness, Grace, and Aversion of Misfortunes.” (On Vkontakte, this group has amassed a whopping 39 subscribers.) Appealing to “the women and the older brothers who have younger brothers,” Buzarov recited a poem about being “toys in the hands of the universe” and “food for the slaughter.” After his ballad, Buzarov started saying something about “the book of Russian racial history,” but by this point few people were still listening.
Next up was Denis Ganich from the “National Course” party, who announced that he believes his purpose is “restoring the sovereignty the country lost in 1991 after losing the Cold War and being betrayed by the top Soviet leadership.” “We are now the most popular force in the country. In Moscow alone, we stage almost 500 street events every year,” he said, clearly referring to the activities of the National Liberation Movement, with which his party is closely associated. “We’re opening our compatriots’ eyes to the truth about the national liberation battle being led by our national leader, Vladimir Putin!” The battle, it turns out, hasn’t been quite the raging success: Ganich said Russia “pays tribute to the United States on the order of billions of dollars a day,” and Russia’s Central Bank “doesn’t obey the Russian government or the president.”
The next candidate to speak was Alexander Gorlov, an electrician at the “Stankin” Moscow State Technical University, who drew big cheers by promising to make it rain cash. “My platform is about money,” he said plainly. “The only thing we don’t have enough of right now is money.” When Gorlov promised to give the deputies money — “As much as you need, that’s how much you’ll get” — the room erupted into laughter and then applause. Vladimir Dudochkin, the Municipal Council’s chairman, tried to moderate his colleagues’ enthusiasm, saying, “You all know why we’ve come here today: it’s the issue of the municipal filter, and the candidates want to present their platforms to you. Just look at what a positive platform the last one offered!”
Mikhail Degtyarev, a State Duma deputy from the misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party, drew attention to the line outside the building and the small meeting space. He said his first act as mayor would be to give the municipal deputies a meeting space big enough for 1,500 people (though there are actually about 1,800 municipal deputies in Moscow). “There are many honorable, wonderful people seated around this table today. They’re reading poems, and advocating the values of their movements, and this is excellent, but the mayor is a state official elected by an enormous number of people,” Degtyarev explained. “In stature, the mayor is treated like the prime minister. Here at this table, as the chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Sports, Tourism, and Youth Affairs, I have the stature of a deputy prime minister!”
Degtyarev also said he’s “come a long way, both professionally and intellectually,” since he managed to win just three percent in the 2013 Moscow mayoral race. If he’s able to run this year, he promises to become “Degtyarev 2.0.”
The speeches weren’t over. Alexander Zakondyrin, the chairman of the “Alliance of Greens” party, focused on the ecological catastrophe in the suburbs outside Moscow, while Communist Party member Vadim Kumin said Moscow needs a mayor who will restore power to the municipal level, “like it was in Soviet times.” Alexander Milovankin, a head engineer at “Gazprom Inform,” who’s running as an independent, lectured the room about a “civil confederation,” saying, “Maybe this sounds utopian, but it’s what we need to be working toward.” Stanislav Polishchuk, the chairman of the Social Reform Party, went so far as to say that a mayor can endorse “whatever platform” he likes, so long as he has “balls of steel.” When Polishchuk said he doesn’t see “this quality” in any of his rivals, somebody in the audience applauded.
Eventually, it was Dmitry Gudkov’s turn to speak. He tried to convince the deputies that the municipal filter shouldn’t prevent him from competing in September’s race, arguing that he has genuine popular support. As proof, Gudkov cited his State Duma re-election campaign (where he won 21 percent of the vote in his region) and his coalition’s success in Moscow’s last municipal elections.
Krasovsky was next. With each new speaker, Dudochkin introduced the candidate by the full name listed on their passport. Now it was Anton Vyacheslavovich Kuznetsov-Krasovsky’s turn. He started by saying that he didn’t know how he could follow Gudkov. “After all, the last time Mr. Gudkov attended a meeting with his colleagues [on June 20], he was meeting with deputies at the Bundestag. Apparently you’re planning to run for mayor of Berlin, not Moscow,” Krasovsky joked, declining to discuss his mayoral program and instead granting his remaining two minutes to the coming Q&A.
Sergey Mitrokhin declared that he knows how to stop corruption and proclaimed the slogans “Land to the Muscovites!” and “Power to the councils!”
The last candidate to take the podium was Ildar Rezyapov, the chairman of the Veterans’ Party, who said he spent nine years working in management positions in “trade, construction, tourism, and mining,” which means he has “organizational skills.” Then, clenching the pages on which he’d printed his speech, he started waving his fist and suddenly screamed, “Every official entering office should have to take a lie detector test! And that goes for everyone here, too!” In the end, Vladimir Dudochkin cut off Rezyapov in mid-sentence. The candidate demanded another second to finish, but Dudochkin had heard enough.
After the speeches, it was time for Q&A. Most of the questions went to Sergey Mitrokhin, who happily answered everything, whether it was about living conditions for large families, or the “outrage” and “depravity” in Losiny Ostrov National Park (where Mitrokhin says rolled lawn was installed instead of natural grass).
When answering a question about Moscow’s housing renovations, “Just Russia” candidate Ilya Sviridov said he had a “small suggestion” for Gudkov: “If you’ve got a lot of signatures that you don’t need, share them with the candidates who don’t have enough endorsements in those districts. It would be like a soccer pass.” Sviridov’s proposal won some applause, but not from Gudkov. “I’m not running a concession stand here,” he answered. “I can’t take endorsements made in my support and give them to somebody else. But I can arrange a meeting with deputies.” The candidates welcomed the idea, but Dudochkin poured cold water on the plan, explaining that the meeting format had been selected specifically to keep candidates from striking deals between each other. “Therefore I’ll ask you not to instigate this any further,” he said, before asking the deputies to put questions to someone other than Mitrokhin or Sviridov.
The deputies were reluctant to oblige, however. Anton Krasovsky, who donated two minutes of his podium time to Q&A, didn’t get a single question. When someone finally asked Degtyarev a question, he remarked that the few questions he received “must mean many people have already decided to support me.” The question was about young families, and Degtyarev said he knows a lot about this issue “as a father with many children and as a man with balls.”
Municipal deputy Levon Smirnov elicited thunderous applause when he noted, in his question to Dmitry Gudkov, that incumbent Mayor Sergey Sobyanin didn’t attend the meeting with deputies and apparently doesn’t respect them. “My question is this: What will you do, as a politician, to lock up this sad city administrator who destroyed our Moscow?” Gudkov responded cautiously, saying, “I want to stress that I’m trying to run for mayor of Moscow, not attorney general, and the courts, not the politicians, should decide who gets put away.”
Before the meeting ended, each candidate got another minute for a closing statement. Buzarov promised to institute “mammunism,” which he described as “Communism for women, where the main law will be ‘Women are innocent of everything.’” Gorlov hammered again at his core message: “I want you all to remember that there’s money. Enough for any modern person to buy all they could need.”
Anton Krasovsky brought the discussion back to Sobyanin, saying, “I think the city’s mayor should be busy monitoring the [prison] conditions at Butyrka, Matrosskaya Tishina, and Lefortovo, not dreaming up new ways to jail people. A politician should be thinking about how to make people’s lives better, not how to put away his predecessor.” Mitrokhin couldn’t ignore Moscow’s incumbent mayor, either, saying that the head of the city should fight corruption. Mitrokhin also said he “already tried to lock up Sobyanin” when Yabloko’s anti-corruption policy center investigated the planters and pedestals installed on Tverskaya Street and found that the city had paid five to 10 times above market value.
When it was Ildar Rezyapov’s turn to speak again, he started screaming all over again: “Young politicians should be in power! Zhirinovsky has been in office long enough! Enough Zyuganov! They’ve been in office too long! It’s time for them to go!” The deputies applauded, but the scene didn’t thrill Ilya Sviridov, who said in his closing speech that the city needs the municipal filter to protect against “fools and weirdos.” “If everyone is allowed onto the ballot, the people simply won’t come out to vote. They’ll say it’s all clownery,” he reasoned.
“As you know, concerts save the best for last, and now it’s Philipp Kirkorov’s turn,” said the final candidate to speak, Igor Suzdaltsev, implying that he is the political equivalent of the 51-year-old pop music star. When the meeting was done, the deputies lined up in front of a notary to endorse candidates. “Hot signatures! Still fresh! Come pass the municipal filter! Low low prices!” joked Dmitry Zelenov, a deputy from Yakimanka.
At the first gathering, Ilya Sviridov had collected 16 endorsements, Anton Krasovsky — 13, Vadim Kumin — 11, and Mikhail Degtyarev — six. The results of this second meeting were similar: 18 for Sviridov, 15 for Kumin, 10 for Degtyarev, seven for Krasovsky, and five for Gudkov. Sergey Mitrokhin was left with just four signatures.
Dudochkin told Meduza that he plans to hold another two such events before the municipal filter deadline on July 3. So far, just 500 of Moscow’s 1,800 municipal deputies have attended the two meetings.
“‘Tis the season,” said the chairman of the Municipal Council, commenting on some of the more colorful candidates’ speeches. “Maybe spring never ended.”