London Mayor Boris Johnson
London’s new Mayor Boris Johnson divides opinion like few others, a maverick lawmaker loved for his eccentric wit but often maligned for his abrasive tongue.
The uncombed, rumple-suited former magazine editor boasts none of the professional sheen of New York’s Michael Bloomberg but will lead a booming city that rivals Manhattan as the world’s leading economic center and will be host of the 2012 Olympic Games.
His victory over incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone, a left-winger and member of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s governing Labour Party, will be seen as a boon for opposition Conservative chief David Cameron. Johnson’s victory gives the Conservatives their first major political office since their crushing 1997 national election defeat.
Ken Livingstone, left, will relinquish the London mayor’s office to
Conservative candidate Boris Johnson
But some Cameron supporters warn that Johnson could prove to be a Trojan horse, if his unguarded remarks and buffoonish image undermine the opposition’s claim that it is now ready to lead Britain.
Johnson cuts a curious figure, either waddling through posh London streets or clumsily pedaling his bicycle to Parliament.
Silhouettes of his iconic poses — scratching his unruly thatch of blond hair, ambling along a road with hands stuffed in wrinkled pockets, gesticulating wildly to make a debating point — were used on campaign billboards.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is best known for appearances on the satirical news panel show “Have I Got News for You” but has also won notoriety for offending minority communities.
He caused deep offense after labeling members of the Commonwealth “piccaninnies,” a derogatory term for black people; referred to Africans as having “watermelon smiles”; and likened his party’s internal conflicts “to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”
Johnson’s first key test is likely to hinge on how he handles relations with China. As mayor, he will be expected to attend at least part of the Beijing Olympics, and his party will hope he is able to avoid offending the hosts.
“Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase,” Johnson wrote in one of his several books on subjects ranging from sports cars to ancient Rome.
Johnson’s scorn has also been directed at gay marriage, which became legal in Britain in 2005. In his book “Friends, Voters, Countrymen,” he said that if homosexuals could marry, then why not “three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.”
Ex-party leader Michael Howard ordered Johnson to visit the northern city of Liverpool in 2004 to apologize when he wrote an editorial accusing the city’s people of “wallowing” in victimhood after Liverpudlian Ken Bigley, who had been taken hostage in Iraq, was beheaded.
Last year, Johnson angered lawmakers in the southern coastal city of Portsmouth when he wrote that the area was “arguably too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs.”
The legislator has even set himself at odds with his own party with his often provocative comments.
In 2006, he refused to support attempts to make school meals healthier, part of a campaign to tackle childhood obesity in Britain, saying instead that he sympathized with parents who were surreptitiously passing junk food to their children at lunchtimes.
“I say, let people eat what they like. Why shouldn’t they push pies through the railings?” Johnson said, bucking the trend for lawmakers to back a campaign launched by a TV chef.
Johnson, who was born in New York, is the great-grandson of Turkish journalist and government minister Ali Kemal. A lawmaker in Britain’s House of Commons, he represents the genteel southern district of Henley, famed for its annual yachting regatta. He plans to step down as a legislator within 12 months.
The new mayor holds a classics degree from Oxford University and edited the right-leaning Spectator from 1999 until 2005, surviving the embarrassment of an alleged affair with one of his writers. With typical panache, he called the adultery reports “an inverted pyramid of piffle.”
Johnson also attended the prestigious Eton College with Cameron, and both men were photographed posing in the white-tie-and-tails uniform of the boarding school’s exclusive Bullingdon dining club.
Although Cameron has downplayed his elitist upbringing, Johnson has cultivated his role as a befuddled toff, fielding tricky questions with a ruffle of his thick mop of blond hair and a typically anachronistic shout of “crikey!”
THINK IT OVER, BORIS
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