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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The New City Duma: News Waiting to Happen

On Monday at the former Comecon building, dozens of journalists, workers and soon-to-be national legislators milled about during registration for Russia's new State Duma, set to meet there in less than 24 hours.


In the excitement, few were aware of what was going on a few meters away behind door 104.


There, in a small room, 35 dep-uties of Moscow's first City Duma in 75 years, without ceremony, were holding their inaugural session.


The mayor, who held a banquet for the legislators on a previous occasion, stayed away Monday, the national television news teams were nowhere to be found, and correspondents from most of the national newspapers found stories elsewhere that were, well, more interesting.


Why the disrespect? Critics of all political ilks have pronounced Mos-cow's duma as Dead on Arrival. Unable to veto the mayor, designed by the executive branch as a subservient errand-runner, the City Duma lacks pizzazz and political power alike.


But are the pronouncements correct?For believers in democracy and the merits of balance of power, the answer is: Unfortunately, yes.


For over two years, Mayor Yury Luzhkov has made the city as his own fiefdom, personally approving all privatization deals, receiving special exceptions from President Boris Yeltsin on everything from rule-by-decree to residence permits.


Luzhkov did this by subverting the power of Mossovet (the 514-strong, hardline-dominated predecessor to the duma dissolved by Luzh-kov in the wake of the October rebellion) by creating a shadow legislature under his control. For its part, Mos-sovet became a punch line.


With the City Duma, designed by Luzhkov and approved by Yeltsin, Luzhkov has simply brought this shadow legislature into the light.


The question facing deputies now is: Can the duma resurrect itself and remake itself into a genuine organ of power, speaking for the district residents by whom they were elected?


In the Monday session there was little evidence of a legislature poised to challenge the power of the mayor.


About two-thirds of its members support reform, privatization -- and the mayor, if speeches Monday are any guide. One of the first moves was to elect Viktor Maksimov, a Luzhkov supporter, as duma chairman.


But like it or not, Luzhkov may learn a lesson in local politics that Mossovet could not teach him. With a mandate more recent than his own (and more localized), the duma can reverse the flow of power, letting it bubble from below instead of dicta-ted from above. Luzhkov could find himself at odds with his "pocket du-ma" over the only questions that really matter in a city: where to construct a new school, whether to close a hospital and where to widen a road.


Now, that is a story. News crews might even show up for the sessions.