Turning my attention to local politics, way back in May 2010, the UK Ambassador, British Council regional director etc. visited Odessa just prior to the Mayoral elections.
Being invited to attend and exchange views with Her Majesty’s representative in Ukraine (and others), I duly did so. Inevitably the subject of the forthcoming Mayoral election arose during which I stated Mr Kostusev would win. I was questioned as to why I thought this would be the case, in particular by the British Council representative who felt his son would win.
As it turned out, his son pulled out of the race, the incumbent Mayor Gurvitz lost in opaque circumstances, Mr Kostusev won, all exactly as I said would happen. (Duly acknowledged when we met again after the local elections in 2011.)
I also stated it would be a disaster for the city as despite Mr Gurvitz being less than whiter than white, he was a civil engineer who understood what makes a city tick, what infrastructure needs to be done and was by nature a planner and builder. Only when significant progress was made in the city would he then skim from the city purse (indirectly of course).
Unfortunately I have been proven correct again. Mr Kostusev has been an unmitigated disaster and a poster boy for corruption and crony-ism. He has proven to have absolutely no idea about how to run a city. That is not to say he is an uneducated or stupid man. On the contrary, he very well educated and actually academically bright. He is though an exponent of old-school elitism and closed networks. He has proven himself to know how to run a fiefdom to the benefit of his patriarchy. (You would expect nothing less from a senior member of Ukraine’s Anti-Monopoly Committee of course.)
It came as no surprise at all when the majority of his hand picked top officials came under investigation for corruption towards the end of 2011. At the time I questioned why any elected official with any self-respect would not resign over such flawed judgement. It was of course a rhetorical question as Odessa has been a fiefdom Mr Kostusev has wanted to control for over a decade. The only way he would give it up would be if he was forced to give it up by greater powers in Kyiv.
By the end of the 2011 Sergey Kivilov, a man I know, was being touted as a replacement for the inept current Mayor. I predicted the downfall of our current Mayor as imminent. Thus far he remains, the New Year and Christmas holidays will have provided a welcome break from public scrutiny.
However, the heat is once again becoming stifling in the kitchen and yet further pressure is being applied. This time in a letter to the President from the Association of Employers of Southern Ukraine asking quite bluntly for his removal with immediate effect and the instigation of direct Presidential rule for Odessa pending new elections.
I can only add my weight to their call despite having no personal dislike for the current Mayor. It is the city in which I live and its need for competent management that is my motivator. Odessa City Hall was run with military precision under Major Gurvitz, was impeccable in presentation and generally did well for the city. Now, whilst the appearance may be the same, it is necessary to wipe your feet on the way out of such a corrupt cesspit and scrub yourself down as if decontaminating yourself from a biological incident as soon as is practicable.
That is not to say the current Mayor is necessarily involved in every nefarious occurrence, simply it is quite blatantly and overtly happening on his watch, under his administration, and therefore he is ultimately responsible for discipline, management and leadership.
Being academically clever does not equate to having the management or leadership skills to run a city.
One wonders if the President will heed the call. Odessa is a PoR stronghold in national elections despite the very popular ex-Mayor Gurvitz belonging to ex-President Yushenko’s party. It may not bode well to retain an extremely disliked PoR Mayor in Kostusev for much longer with national parliamentary elections in October.
Let him return to the allegedly nefarious dealings within Ukraine’s Anti-Monopoly Committee from whence he came, as he clearly has no idea how to run a city. The sooner that happens the better, both for the PoR and for Odessa.
Even though the failures of Kustosev may not be enough to turn Odessa anti-PoR, as most seem to blame the man rather than the party, it is not a risk not worth taking leaving him in post. After all, having voted in a non-PoR Mayor in local elections historically, Odessa still voted overwhelmingly for the PoR on the national stage.
In times of unpopular reforms, is it worth the political risk of leaving such an obviously incapable PoR man in charge of Ukraine’s 4th largest city when the entire city is saying he needs to go?
Who ultimately replaces him is completely irrelevant for those who live in Odessa, as long as they have the ability to run the city. If the city is run well, there is no real need for the PoR to worry about the national Odessa vote drifting, even if a non-PoR candidate wins the next (and hopefully early) Mayoral elections.
So, the question is, will Odessa fall under direct presidential rule in the near future and if so, for how long?