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Germany-Based Boxer Klitschko Eyes Kyiv Mayorship

Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has shown that ex-athletes can become successful politicians. Former boxing world champion Vitali Klitschko is trying to follow in his footsteps, but his chances are slim.

Vitali Klitschko participates in a tug-of-war in Kyiv

Will Klitschko be able to pull voters on his side?

Dressed in a gray suit and a dark red tie instead of boxer shorts, Vitali Klitschko dons a serious and determined look on the campaign poster that Natalia rolls up and hands out to passers-by. The young mother is a volunteer in Klitschko's campaign team. She's convinced that he's the best candidate.

"He's young and dynamic," Natalia said. "Premiers and presidents around the world know him and Ukraine can be proud of him."

At first sight, the Kyiv mayor election campaign looks like any other: People hand out flyers, flags and buttons on the street and posters with the faces of candidates have been plastered across town.

The colorful information tents are the only reminder that Ukraine went through the so-called Orange Revolution three-and-a-half years ago. Back then, demonstrators were sleeping in the tents. Today people gather in front of them to debate. The question whether a boxer can become a good politician is one of the most popular topics.

Too inexperienced?

The bell tower and Assumption Cathedral of the Kyiv Pechersk monastery at sunset

Klitschko hopes to return Kyiv to its former glory

Opinions differ greatly. While some admire him as an athlete, they're skeptical as to whether he'll be able to make a good politician. Others outright reject Klitschko's plans, saying that he's not ready for the job since he doesn't even know the exact number of residents that live in Kyiv.

The candidate himself sees things differently, of course. After all, he's been a city council member for two years. During a meeting in his office, which is filled with boxing trophies and photographs, Klitschko appeared all statesman-like.

"I'm not a member of a political party," he said. "We don't have to get involved in party politics, but have to set up good and clear rules for Kyiv."

For the past 12 years, Klitschko's been spending most of his time in Hamburg, but he said that he's still very much aware of the problems that his home town faces: murderous traffic, daily traffic snarls, a dilapidated sewer system, crumbling hospitals, kindergartens and schools.

Rudy's advice

Klitschko next to a painting of the Statue of Liberty

Klitschko thinks Kyiv faces many of the same problems as New York

But most of all, Klitschko said he's running to stamp out corruption. New York City's former Mayor Rudi Giuliani is his role model and he's managed to get him on board as an advisor.

"Kyiv has the same problems as New York as far as social programs, traffic, construction, crime and corruption is concerned," Klitschko said. "Rudy Giuliani's very experienced and he's willing to share this with us."

Despite all that, Klitschko's victory seems a far shot. He trails the incumbent, Leonid Chernovetsky, an excentric, Maybach-driving banker, by several percentage points. The current mayor is especially popular among pensioners and socially disadvantaged residents, whom he gets on his side by handing out free food packages paid for by the city.

While Chernovetsky has come under criticism for dubious real estate deals, he's got the best chances to get the most votes as people in Kyiv like his style.

"He's the first mayor that looks after the homeless," said one woman, who did not want to be identified. "He's set up soup kitchens for them, gives them social welfare and has provided them with housing."

No time for quitters

Klitschko holds up his world champion belt

Klitscho is hoping to become a heavy-weight in Ukrainian politics

Nearly 80 candidates will be on Sunday's ballot and the person that gets the most votes is elected. It'll most likely be Chernovetsky -- but Klitschko still believes that he can win.

Even if he doesn't, the 36-year-old plans to stay active in politics. He said he has a lot of visions and enough stamina to see them become reality.

"I can make it," he said. "Even if it doesn't happen now, then it'll happen in two years, or later. I never quit."

He's already advising Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on the 2012 European soccer championships, which will take place in Ukraine and Poland. But whatever happens on Sunday, Klitschko definitely plans to take some time off on July 12. On that day, his brother, Vladimir, will defend his WBO world heavy-weight belt against US boxer Tony Thompson in Hamburg.

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