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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Peek Inside the Mayor's Mailbox

When Moscow resident I. Rozhkova had a burning question about her television, she went straight to the top. She wrote a letter to Mayor Yury Luzhkov.


"It's already two months since the television antenna in our building has worked", she complained. "Is there anything you can do about it? "


Rozhkova got an answer, but perhaps not the one she wanted. Yes, the television will be fixed, she was told in a letter, but not until the "fourth quarter of 1993", when other building repairs are completed.


Every week, hundreds of Muscovites send their comments and complaints to City Hall, where a staff of 20, armed with computers and special legislative software, respond to each and every letter.


"The mayor can't answer all these questions", said Dmitry Rakhmanin, a mayoral press aide who releases the most interesting questions to the press. "So he gives them to the department involved, which can best answer".


Even if he actually sees only a tiny fraction of his mail, Luzhkov, who began his political career as a Communist Party functionary, gains a lot of political mileage from the correspondence. He often reads constituent mail during a weekly television broadcast, and several newspapers print a select group of letters with Luzhkov's answers.


With rivals already lining up to run against Luzhkov -- even though the election date is still in dispute -- the appearance of a hands-on mayor could help Luzhkov's campaign.


Not surprisingly, many of the 41, 000 letters sent by Muscovites to City Hall last year expressed dismay and worry about rising prices in the markets and stores.


"To whom did they sell the gastronom next to Mayakovskaya metro? Prices have now become inaccessible", A. Prusova asked. "They say it's been sold to some French".


Indeed, the city responded, the store at 27/29 Tverskaya Ulitsa has been privatized by its workers. But the city found out little more.


"The director refused to show the charter of the stock company to the Department of Industry and Consumer Affairs", the response said. "The department thinks it could be useful for the inspection division to carry out a detailed inspection of the store's activities".


Another writer, V. Yerokhin, seemed to be making fun of the current service standards in Russian shops. "In government stores they are rude; in private ones, they are boorish", he wrote. "Shouldn't there be some kind of sign to say if they have been privatized? "


The store's name should tell you if it has been privatized. City Hall responded. "When commerce regulations have been violated in a retail establishment", city officials advised, "you can turn to the consumer affairs division of your administrative region".


When mail arrives at city hall at 13 Ulitsa Tverskaya, workers number the letter and enter the author's address and question. General comments receive a quick form letter -- an art perfected in America but clearly already under development here. Those asking detailed questions receive preliminary postcards.


"Your letter has been sent to the northern administrative region, which will communicate to you the adopted decision within a month", a typical postcard response says.


By an existing Soviet-era law, all constituent mail must be answered within 30 days, according to Yelena Kochetkova, head of the mayor's "sector of citizen mail".


"If the question is very complicated however, we respond that the answer is not easy and we are still working on it", Kochetkova said.


About one letter in eight comes from pensioners and the handicapped inquiring about their benefits. About five percent of letter writers complain about the worsening crime situation in Moscow.


The greatest number of letter writers, however, want to know when they will get a better apartment.