Today’s New York Times ran an excellent profile of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. The Ed-Koch-lookin Luzhkov was a founder of Putin’s ruling United Russia Party, and is extremely popular. Re-elected with 69% and 75% in his last two elections, Luzhkov is first and foremost a builder, apartments, highways, memorials, you name it. Matching his party, the man has authoritarian tendencies.
What makes him unique though is his powerful voice on foreign affairs. Luzhkov has promised $100 million of Moscow city money for development projects in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian city damaged in the recent conflict. Luzhkov has visited the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, pressing his own government to recognize the territory’s independance, as well as making provocative statements towards Ukraine.
It’s rare to see a mayor with such a strong foreign policy voice. Rudy Giuliani liked to make high-profile gestures, and after 9/11 rejected $10 million of assistance from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. (Also parlayed it into an epic fail Presidential run.) Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone injected himself into the politics of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Israel, everyone, Venezuela again, and History. Other than these two, it’s hard to think of any mayors around the world with significant independant opinions on foreign affairs. On one hand it isn’t really their place; mayors are never elected on foreign policy. That said, any mayor of a major city is going to handle issues with roots abroad, whether trade, energy, or immigration. So I’d just leave you with this nugget from the great Marion Barry:
“I am making this trip to Africa because Washington is an international city, just like Tokyo, Nigeria or Israel. As mayor, I am an international symbol. Can you deny that to Africa?”