Mayor's Hotline to Cool Residents' Pique

Vexed by filthy air, potholes and Byzantine rules and regulations, Moscow's Everyman now has somewhere to vent his spleen.

Thanks to a new city hotline that began work Friday, complaints, suggestions, questions and plain old requests for help can now be addressed directly to a real live voice at the mayor's office. Just dial 229-5431.

Assistants to Moscow city department and committee heads will field calls Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Specialists from different departments will be manning the lines on different days. The mayor's press office will inform the media of the schedule.

The hotline office said it handled 51 calls on its first day Friday. Forty of the calls were fielded by the "front-line" operators -- these calls tended to be for advice on how to deal with various local organs of power.

Veterans also called to find out how to get benefits due them.The other 11 calls, on issues that could not be resolved on the spot, were forwarded to a higher authority, or "control." These dealt with such matters as when khrushchoby -- the dilapidated five-story apartment houses built under Nikita Khrushchev -- would be replaced or repaired, and with technical troubles like shortages of hot water.

Every call, even the most complex, is guaranteed a response, a hotline spokeswoman said. For problems that need more looking into by the departments, letters are sent later to callers regarding their areas of concern.

And the areas of concern are many among Moscow residents. When asked Friday what subjects they would call the hotline about, Muscovites on the street held forth on the most diverse subjects, from general political suggestions to specific grievances about personal and neighborhood problems.

Nadezhda, a mother of two small children, said she would complain that there is only one playground in Moscow's Zamoskvorechye region.

Valery Pavlovich, a former rocket builder who now works in the growing fields of trade and unauthorized-cab driving, said he would complain about Moscow's filthy entryways. "You can't make up your face but keep your boots dirty," he said. "Your pod'ezd is your dirty boots. You can't show that to the whole city and the whole world."

A woman mopping the front steps of a Western-style market, only to have them sullied again by incoming customers, said the hotline would be as futile as her labors. "It's all useless," she said. "What do our complaints mean?"

Victor, who was sharing a lunchtime beer with his friends, said it was not even worthwhile thinking about what to say to the hotline. "You'll never get through," he said. "It'll be busy the whole time."

And indeed, the number was engaged almost the entire afternoon on Friday. Muscovites, it seems, have a lot to say to their mayor. A spokeswoman for the mayor's press office didn't have much sympathy for the plight of eager callers who couldn't get through. "It's one number for all of Moscow," she said. "What do you expect?"