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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Klitschko Seeks a Shot at Mayor

APGiuliani meeting Klitschko in New York last week. Giuliani is advising Klitschko on his bid to become Kiev's mayor.
KIEV -- Former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko has found politics in Kiev to be a bruising business. So tough, in fact, that he has hired former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to advise him in his campaign to be mayor.

The retired pugilist is one of the front-runners in May 25 election, a political free-for-all that has drawn 79 candidates. But he lost a similar bid two years ago, after what he recalls as some rough handling by the media and opponents.

"Sometimes I wish I could meet people inside the ring, where there are clear rules," said Klitschko, 36, who has 34 career knockouts and towers over the political field at 2 meters. "But physical power decides nothing in politics."

Giuliani was in Kiev on Tuesday to take part in an investment forum and hold a news conference with Klitschko.

Among Klitschko's most formidable rivals is the incumbent, Leonid Chernovetsky, a popular and eccentric figure who has been accused by rivals of corruption and literally brawled with Ukraine's top police official in January. Another main candidate is First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchynov, an ally of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Turchynov is running a bare-knuckled campaign: After Klitschko put up posters declaring "Kiev needs a strong mayor," Turchynov responded with posters announcing "Kiev needs a smart mayor."

The implied dig at Klitschko's intellect comes despite the boxer's doctorate in physical education, his reputation as a dedicated chess player and his fondness for classical literature.

Candidates here are routinely suspected of representing powerful business interests, and Klitschko -- himself a millionaire -- acknowledges that his supporters include businessmen. But he casts himself as an independent, whose main focus is fighting corruption.

In summarizing his goals, he told the story of being stopped by a policewoman in Hamburg, Germany, several years ago. She asked for his autograph then noticed that he wasn't wearing his seat belt -- and wrote him a ticket for 30 euros ($46). That, he said, is the kind of law-abiding spirit Ukraine needs.

"We can't change the life in Kiev without breaking crime and corruption's rule," he said.

Klitschko said he also wanted to preserve the historic character of Kiev, which is suffering from economic growing pains, with snarled roads and new buildings sprouting up everywhere -- often on parkland and historic properties.

"It's painful to see how people have changed the face of Kiev," he said.

When Klitschko ran for mayor two years ago, he said, he was surprised by the hostile coverage. "Everything I did was just bad," he said in an interview.

Even his unpolished Ukrainian -- he grew up speaking Russian like many Ukrainians born in the Soviet era -- became a campaign issue in 2006.

Now, he says, his language skills have improved, although he feels it should never have become a political issue. "People try to make from a mouse an elephant," he said.

Klitschko said he wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning and works out, not in preparation for campaigning, but for a return to the boxing ring. He retired in November 2005, after sustaining a knee injury, pulling out of a defense of his World Boxing Council heavyweight title.

Now, he hopes to regain the title this summer. If he can, he said he and his younger brother, Wladimir, who holds heavyweight titles for the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Organization, would be the first brothers to share four major belts at the same time.

"I want to write history," Klitschko said.