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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Wins Mayoral Laurels

There was no swimsuit competition and no talent show, but Sunday's "Russian Mayor-95" event had all the razzle-dazzle of a Miss America pageant with none of the suspense: Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov took the honors in a contest among 50 mayors nationwide.

Addressing assembled guests and contestants in the Kremlin Palace's banquet hall, Luzhkov, the recipient of $100,000 in rubles and a gold statue that took three bodyguards to hold, was mayorally gracious.

"This prize was received by the many, many, many workers of the city of Moscow," he said. "It's a team of comrades, of those who just want to do good for Moscow."

Luzhkov gave no hint of how he would dispose of the money, but Sergei Tsoi, a Luzhkov spokesman, said, "We'll probably give it to someone, as usual."

Initiated by the Association of Leaders of Enterprise, a member of the presidential administration's advisory Social Organizations Chamber, and sponsored by the Anis Investment trading house to the tune of $2.5 million, the contest was designed to reveal an exemplary mayor with a "positive dynamic" and "professional soundness," according to the association's president, Mark Masarsky.

An initial 3,000 mayors entered the yearlong competition, which culminated Saturday beneath St. Basil's Cathedral with an outdoor stage show and exhibits.

No effort was spared in the attempt to catch the jury's eye: The exhibit set up by the Tatarstan town of Naberezhniye Chelny included a mammoth mural of the Kremlin made up of garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, onions, lemons, bananas and dyed-blue potatoes.

But as in pageants the world over, it all came down to charm. The contest has shown "how interesting our mayors have become, how charming, how initiative-taking, how much in demand, how very warm they are," said jury chairman and former Kremlin Chief-of-staff Sergei Filatov, who now runs President Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign.

For Luzhkov, who was allowed to invite half of the gala final's 800 guests, the charm contest was won before it even began. Seated at the head of the room in stately isolation, the beaming mayor freely dispensed hugs and handshakes to a queue of prize winners.

"What a mayor this is, what a town!" Luzhkov exclaimed, bear-hugging the mayor of Perm, one of nine winners of a $50,000 prize and a gold statuette. "I'd like to incorporate Perm into Moscow, but that, of course, is forbidden."

Other lucky prize-winners included mayors of Stavropol, Kazan, Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Volgograd, Vladikavkaz, Naberezhniye Chelny and Sterlitamak.

The capital and its ruler were the undisputed stars of the show. Zakaya Sultitov, mayor of the Ingushetian capital of Nazran, said he had considered giving his $7,500 "sympathy prize" to Moscow to help with road construction, before deciding to spend it on Nazran's estimated 70,000 Chechen refugees.

"We all know how hard it is to raise the motherland up, and we want Luzhkov to know that we'll support him no matter what," said Sultitov, lifting the mayor of Vladikavkaz in a hug.

But for all the hugs and tipsy toasts, the Russian Mayor-95 contest was a pageant with a purpose. The contest, Luzhkov said, will contribute to "support of Boris Yeltsin in the [presidential] election so that we don't have to repeat what we've already gone through, and so we can move forward to become a normal, civilized, democratic society."

Contestants helped themselves at tables laden with fresh flowers, vodka, fruit, caviar and finger pastries, pausing only to listen to Soviet pop music celebrity and Luzhkov "cultural adviser" Jozef Kobzon belt out the sentimental favorite "My Dear Moscow."

The Defense Ministry orchestra played "When You Wish Upon A Star" and "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," as some $850,000 in prizes was distributed.