FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 3, 2012 –
Editor’s note: During every West Sacramento election cycle, we invite each of the candidates for city council and school board to sit down for an interview to be published in the News-Ledger. On Oct. 3, we published the following interview with Oleg Maskaev.
By Steve Marschke, News-Ledger Editor
Oleg Maskaev brings a measure of celebrity to this year’s West Sacramento City Council race. He’s the lone challenger to incumbents Bill Kristoff and Oscar Villegas. He’s also a former WBC heavyweight champion.
Maskaev beat Hasim Rahman in the boxing ring in 2006 to earn his heavyweight title, defending it successfully later that year against Peter Okhello. At 43, he still trains (albeit at a less-strenuous level) and he plans a few more fights before hanging up the gloves. But Maskaev’s name is already well-known in sporting circles and among the Russian community worldwide.
Still, the boxer says he’s also the same “simple man” who used to work in a coal mine in Kazakhstan, a republic that used to be part of the Soviet Union.
“Everbody says ‘Oleg is a superstar,’” Maskaev told the News-Ledger. “But I’m still a very simple man. I’m still that young guy working in the mine, running in the streets and playing soccer.”
Maskaev met a reporter for an interview this week, in a meeting set up by his campaign manager, David Joyce, and also attended by his campaign videographer. He recounted how he came to be living in Southport with a great boxing career behind him.
“I worked in a mine,” he said. “My father was the boss. What happened was, I almost got killed. . . I was lucky. The wagon, which weighed close to 7,000 pounds, went down while I was working down there. I was cleaning the rails. When I saw it coming, I just jumped aside. For five minutes, I couldn’t talk. People up there were saying ‘Oleg, Oleg, are you OK?”
When his father learned of the near miss, he pulled Maskaev from the mine.
“Because of boxing, I had lots of privileges,” he recalled. “I didn’t have to go every day to college, because I was training. . . (but) I studied very hard, I passed the tests.”
He earned degrees in engineering and in a subject similar to physical education.
Then Maskaev accidentally lost his amateur status after fighting a pro. But he won that fight — which led to a phone call from New York asking him to come fight professionally. That was in 1994.
Now, the 43-year old prizefighter lives in Southport with his wife and four kids. How did he end up in West Sacramento? The answer lies partly in the town’s thriving Russian community.
“I’d been in West Sacramento a number of times (before moving here) because of my friends,” said Maskaev. “I fought a couple of times in Reno. All my fans in West Sacramento came to watch. I fell in love with the city. It was beautiful, nice, because of the nature, fishing and hunting. And because of the weather – New York is a little cold.”
He moved to the city in 2006.
Why is he running for council?
“I love the community, the city and the people,” Maskaev answered. “(There are) very nice people – I have lots of friends here.” But:
“Some things have to be changed. I know people can trust me. I’m a very easy going man. I can sit down and talk to people.”
Maskaev said he was encouraged to run from both within West Sacramento and from outside. His campaign manager supports conservative Republicans, and Maskaev said his Republican affiliation is important to him in this campaign.
“It’s very important, because I love my family, I love my church and the city,” he commented.
“I was raised in a hardworking family,” he said. “I was raised to love people and not hate them. When we’re united, we can help each other. Hate has nothing to do with it.”
Asked about his community service experience, Maskaev replied that he is proud to have served as a missionary, speaking to groups of people around the globe.
“It’s very important stuff,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many people. They look at you and want to see who you are inside. . . My message was that when I was young, there were two ways. We have to choose (between) the right way and the wrong way. I chose the right way.”
Maskaev is trying to unseat one of the local city council’s incumbents. How does he feel the council is doing?
“Right now, they are doing bad. There is no question.”
What are they doing wrong?
“What are they doing good right now?” he retorted. “I saw one improvement – sidewalks. That’s all. What about the rest?”
He gestured toward the storefronts in the Southport shopping center surrounding him.
“As you see here, we don’t have any businesses. All the small businesses went out. We can see a lot of spaces available. . . Over by Nugget, there was a nice karate gym. Now, it’s closed. Who’s going to get blamed? Not me – they are.”
What should the city do about the problem?
“They should allow them to come here, and help them.”
What’s the main culprit? Paperwork? Taxes?
“I think taxes,” said Maskaev. “That’s number one, right now,”
He was asked what he thought of the city’s police and fire services. Are they good?
“Not now,” answered Maskaev. “It used to be, yes, but not anymore, because of the budget.”
What can the city to do fix public safety issues?
“They can create a budget for that, (be) more flexible to have more police, more firefighters – it’s very important. Safety for the people.”
Is the city doing a good job improving flood protection?
“I think they’re doing OK. We have to work on that more. How are they doing it? They want to raise the property taxes for the people. It’s going to affect them. We’re going to see more houses (in) foreclosure. We can’t do it that way – we have to make a special source for that.”
Where should the money come from?
“First of all, I have to see my limits and fight with the limits,” he said. “When you’re a politician, for instance you’re on a council, you have to see your limits and what you can do.”
Do the city’s planning policies support good growth patterns?
“I have to see everything. I have to see all the cards and just do my best.”
Is there a role for government to get involved in assisting some development projects? Should taxpayer money sometimes play a role?
“It has to be involved all the time. . . checking every move,” said Maskaev. We can sit down and figure out which way is good for the development and help make sure it’s going to happen.”
Maskaev looks to be mounting a serious campaign. Asked about his fundraising efforts, he answered:
“It’s improving. . . I’m going to talk to the people. I’m a simple man.”
And then a small group began to assemble nearby to assist him on a door-to-door walk in West Sacramento precincts that morning. Time to go talk to some of the people.
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Copyright News-Ledger 2012