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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Incumbent Out of Far East Mayor Poll

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- Arguing that Mayor Viktor Cherepkov spent city funds on his own political machine, a Vladivostok court on Thursday struck Cherepkov's name from the ballot, three days before the vote.

Critics of Cherepkov, a self-proclaimed clairvoyant who has made a career of battling the odds, say he has touted his candidacy through everything from flower beds proclaiming his generosity to free bus rides for soccer fans to matches in Khabarovsk, 700 kilometers away f all at state expense.

Two of his 13 opponents sued over those allegations and on Thursday a local court agreed. Cherepkov's supporters were predictably outraged, and even the City Election Commission, which is investigating similar complaints against him, vowed to appeal the decision to a higher regional court. Election commission members said the charges against Cherepkov were not serious enough to warrant disqualifying him this late in the campaign.

With what the court ruled was public money, Cherepkov has hosted outdoor discos to promote his candidacy and decorated one of Vladivostok's road- and bridge-building projects with an enormous flower bed that read, "To the city from the mayor."

Cherepkov's slogans appear on buses ("To the children from the mayor"), Cherepkov calendars hang in classrooms where unpaid instructors teach, and a municipal newspaper devotes most of its coverage to Cherepkov. Even the city soccer team's programs include his campaign material.

Valentin Lognenko, a rival candidate, began mocking the saturation campaign by distributing posters that contrasted his own serious face with a grinning, unctuous Cherepkov; the legend read, "To the city from the mayor."

"I agree that Cherepkov makes propaganda against all the candidates, and I agree that it's ugly," Vladimir Dombrovitsky, a Communist member of the Electoral Commission, said in a meeting immediately after the court decision. "I read a story today with even a hint of a racial epithet in it, because he called [mayoral candidate Vladimir] Gilgenberg a German."

Cherepkov has long portrayed himself as a defender of democracy in a struggle with the region's authoritarian governor, Yevgeny Nazdratenko. The mayor is particularly popular among the elderly because he has championed them against Nazdratenko, who urged people to invest in a pyramid scheme co-founded by his wife, then shrugged off its bankruptcy last year.

His exclusion from the race Thursday outraged pensioners, and a group of elderly women fresh from the court decision sat at the back of an Electoral Commission meeting heckling the commissioners.

Dombrovitsky, the commissioner, told a pro-Cherepkov commissioner, "You should not do propaganda for the mayor."

"You should! You should!" cried the women.

Some critics have dismissed the mayor's road-building efforts as an attempt to lure the votes of the city's drivers, who have higher incomes and are more likely to vote than the patients at hospitals and psychiatric wards that have lost city funding.

Last week, after a head of the Primorsky region's architectural committee condemned as unsafe many of the city's new bridges and underground pedestrian crossings, assailants blinded him by throwing acid in his face. In a letter to the prosecutor general, Cherepkov said he had nothing to do with that attack.