High-profile leaders with city solutions

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The Independent Online
LONDON

London would be the obvious candidate among UK cities to have an elected mayor - but it would be the riskiest.

Since the the Greater London Council was abolished in 1986, there has been a growing demand for a return to some form of London-wide government. London First, an association of 200 top companies and City interests, is working on detailed proposals for a directly elected mayor - it prefers the term "governor" - to work with eight commissioners carrying specific portfolios.

London has a plethora of local organisations, but, argues London First: "What it lacks is co-ordination and long-term planning". A directly elected mayor would "champion London at home and abroad".

Close observers calculate that most leaders of Labour-controlled boroughs in London are against the idea, and the Conservatives remain deeply resistant to it.

That has not prevented speculation on who might run for "governor": Tony Banks, Labour MP and ex-GLC councillor; Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP; Michael Cassidy, policy chairman (in effect, leader) of the City of London; Heather Rabbatts, go-getting chief executive of Lambeth; even Lord Sheppard, Conservative ex-chairman of Grand Metropolitan, who is chairman of Lon- don First.

OXFORD

A high-profile city leader could help Oxford solve its growing congestion problem and also change the city's "town and gown" image. The Labour- controlled city council favours an elected mayor to help speed decisions regarding city centre congestion, and promote the city as an industrial centre as well as one of learning and tourism.

Among the names thrown up were those of the former leader of the Labour Group on Oxfordshire County Council, James Plasket, and the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Jenkins.

LEEDS

If Harvey Nichols, the favoured shop of the rich and famous, is prepared to open its first regional branch in Leeds, it could be argued that the city has no need of an elected mayor to raise its profile.

The store has followed a number of businesses which in recent years have flocked to Leeds - now the biggest financial services centre outside the capital. Aided by an imaginative licensing policy, the city boasts large numbers of clubs and cafes, and many residents have a high disposable income.

The council has worked hard to raise the profile of Leeds and, under Jon Trickett, set up the 24-Hour City Initiative to bring business and community leaders together to discuss the city's regeneration.

Mr Trickett, now Labour MP for Hemsworth, would be an obvious candidate, but both he and the present city council argue that Leeds has no need for an elected representative.

LIVERPOOL

Liverpool is one city with experience of "city bosses". For many years Liberal Sir Trevor Jones ran the city council, only to be followed by the turbulent reign of Derek Hatton. The city is now fiercely proud of its recovery, and recently scored Objective One status, a European regeneration award amounting to pounds 1.2bn, which will see it through to the year 2000.

The refurbished Albert Dock is among the top five British tourist attractions, and Paul McCartney has ploughed millions of pounds into the Institute of Performing Arts.

Perhaps the Hatton eraturned the city against the idea of an elected leader. Christopher Gibaud of the Mersey Partnership, whose remit is to raise the region's profile, saysan elected mayor would turn the "emasculated local authorities into a snake-pit of confusion".

Ambassador heals divisions of immigration

STRASBOURG

Catherine Trautmann, a theologian and native of Alsace, is regarded as one of France's most successful mayors, combining the roles of adept local administrator and high-profile ambassador for her city in France and in Europe.

Aged 45, she was first elected mayor in 1989 against the city's reputation as a right-wing stronghold. Last June, she was convincingly re-elected for a second term against the national trend to the right. She remains the only female mayor of any French city with a population of more than 100,000.

When Ms Trautmann became mayor, Strasbourg was wracked by social divisions which are more extreme than almost anywhere else in France. Immigration was a major issue and environmental worries also loomed large. The two most visible results of her first term in office were the Strasbourg tramway, which links outlying suburbs to the city centre and has removed cars from much of the city centre, and the Strasbourg affiliate branch of the elite Paris business school, ENA. She has successfully argued for keeping European Parliament sessions in her city.

A French mayor is directly elected by dint of heading the victorious party or coalition list in the six-yearly local elections and combines the functions normally operated in Britain by the lord mayor and council chairman.

He or she earns a salary related to the population of the city or village (around 20,000 francs a month for Strasbourg) and controls the city budget, which includes spending on school and community buildings council housing and transport.

NAPLES

Naples was once a byword for modern urban trash. Generations of sleazy, incompetent municipal councils had turned the city of the Grand Tour, a Baroque jewel nestling at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, into a sprawling industrial city choking on smog and anarchic poverty. and in 1993, the very nadir of its postwar history, the city was formally declared bankrupt. Then its messiah finally arrived in the shape of Antonio Bassolino, a charismatic local left-winger who won the mayor's office in a tight electoral race against Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Il Duce, in December 1993.

In little more than two years, the centre has been cleaned up and partly pedestrianised, traffic has been reorganised to run more smoothly, museums and public buildings have been made more accessible and street festivals have been revived. Above all, Naples has recovered its self-esteem.

BARCELONA

Pasqual Maragall, the mayor of Barcelona, is also one of its most dynamic characters. He was elected deputy mayor of Spain's second city (pop 1.6m) in 1979 in the first democratic municipal elections in Spain. A former professor of urban and international economy at Barcelona University, municipal affairs are a subject close to heart.

In December, 1982, he became mayor of the Catalan capital, replacing Narcis Serra who was appointed Minister of Defence. Mr Maragall was confirmed as mayor in the municipal elections the next year, and has been re-elected three times since then. Mr Maragall has often been tipped as a suitable candidate to replace Felipe Gonzalez as head of the Spanish Socialist Party.

As Catalan Socialist mayor in a region governed by the conservative nationalist CiU party, Mr Maragall has occasionally come into conflict with the Catalan President Jordi Pujol. Under Spain's autonomy statutes, the Catalan parliament is responsible for its regional government, education and security. But it is the ayuntamiento, or city hall, under Mr Maragall, which controls all municipal affairs, including infrastructure, city transport and the municipal police force.

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