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Yakovlev Close Second in St. Petersburg's Race

  • Brian Whitmore

St. Petersburg, May 20 (RFE/RL) -- St. Petersburg has been Anatoly Sobchak's city for five years. He intends to keep it this way for another five. But one of his deputies has other ideas; and may be poised to realize them.

First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev's surprisingly strong showing in St. Petersburg's gubernatorial election yesterday sent shock waves through the city's political community.

With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, Sobchak led with 28.7 percent of the vote. Yakovlev was second with 21.7 and former Federation Council deputy Yury Boldyrev was running third with 16.9 percent. If no candidate gains an absolute majority, a run-off will match the top two candidates.

But the momentum seems to belong to Yakovlev. Most pre-election polls showed Sobchak to be far ahead, and Yakovlev battling Boldyrev for a distant second place.

While Sobchak has been a household name in Russia during recent years, Yakovlev was a relative unknown even in his own city. For the last three years he has worked as Sobchak's deputy in charge of public works.

In February Yakovlev announced his intention to run for his boss' job. He said then that after having "worked in the city government for so long I have learned from its many mistakes."

Yakovlev proved to be an active and skillful campaigner, creating an image of himself as a young and energetic "can-do manager." His television advertisements were filled with MTV like rock videos imploring the electorate to "vote for Yakovlev."

The focus of his campaign has been a call for rebuilding St. Petersburg industrial base in a shift from the current reliance on banking and tourism.

Yakovlev's campaign was given a boost when two other candidates, Legislative Assembly Deputies Igor Artyemev and Vyacheslav Shcherbakov withdrew from the race and backed his candidacy.

But few were prepared for his showing on election night. Yakovlev himself claims not to be surprised.