Boxing Champ Klitschko, 0-1 In Political Arena, Seeks Second Shot At Becoming Kiev Mayor

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko has found politics in Ukraine's capital to be a bruising business. So tough, in fact, that he has hired Rudy Giuliani to advise him in his campaign to be Kiev's mayor.

Boxing champ Vitaly Klitschko

The retired pugilist is one of the frontrunners 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, who has 34 career knockouts and literally towers over the political field at 2 meters. "But physical power decides nothing in politics."

Former New York mayor Giuliani was in Kyiv on Tuesday to take part in an investment forum and hold a joint press conference with Klitschko.

Among the 36-year-old 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 to run this city of 2.7 million is First Vice-Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchynov, an ally of Ukraine's powerful prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, the heroine of the Orange Revolution.

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. His combination of brawn and brains led one publication to nickname him "Dr. Iron Fist."

Both Klitschko and Turchinov are trying to appeal to supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Those peaceful protests overturned rigged election results and ushered in new leaders who promised reform and sought closer ties to the West.

Candidates here are routinely suspected of representing powerful business interests, and Klitschko - himself a millionaire - admits 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 he wasn't wearing his seat belt - and wrote him a ticket for $46.

That, he said, is the kind of law-abiding spirit Ukraine needs.

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

Klitschko said he also wants to preserve the historic character of this 1,500-year-old city, with its tree-shaded streets that climb rolling hills.

Ukraine's economy is booming and Kyiv is suffering from 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 Kyiv," 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.

A recent Klitschko rally at Kyiv Politechnical University drew several hundred students, some of them star-struck autograph seekers. He was impossible to miss, wading through the crowd in a slick gray suit.

Klitschko said he wakes up at 6 am 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.

Source: Kyiv Post