In the New Statesman, Katie Stallard reviews Putin: His Life and Times by Philip Short. Referring to Putin’s tenure as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg under Anatoly Sobchak, the reviewer notes:
As Sobchak’s deputy, Putin earned a reputation for discipline, loyalty and refusing to take bribes, which would serve him well in the years to come.
Discipline and loyalty, OK. Refusing to take bribes? It’s still a gray area. There were suspicions and investigations. (Also see Karen Dawisha’s 2014 book.) At some point, the St. Petersburg city council voted to have Putin fired and his department stripped of its contract-signing powers. But Putin remained in office and only lost his job when Sobchak lost the mayoral election in 1996.
It wouldn’t be a huge exaggeration to say Sobchak’s team had a reputation for graft. On the one hand, all its members were tainted by this perception; on the other, those who were discreet in their dealings had a certain advantage in public opinion. In those times, not having dollar signs in their eyes could earn public officials a measure of respect.