Road to power, influence and the jailhouse

London mayor placed on tight leash
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The Independent Online
Strong mayors of the kind being proposed for London have lots going for them. In France and Germany - witness President Jacques Chirac and former Chancellors Willi Brandt and Konrad Adenauer - the mayor's office can be a stepping stone to higher things. Mayors such as Richard Daley of Chicago can become kingmakers or, like the recently elected Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of Mexico City, arbiters of national politics. Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem and Brandt in Berlin aspired to be international peacemakers.

But the job of mayor carries risks, too. George Moscone of San Francisco was shot in his office, by a political colleague. Marion Barry, mayor of Washington DC, ended up in jail, after falling to the temptations of power. The law courts in France have seen a parade of those for whom the job proved a honeypot. Mr Daley of Chicago may have made Kennedy president in 1960, but his police force destroyed the Democrats' chances in 1968.

Britain, of course, already has mayors but they are merely figureheads. Adorned in ermine and chains, those filling the position in Britain and Ireland are usually councillors who are past it or who colleagues admire but would never dream of making the leader (or in Scotland the convener) of the council or the chairperson of the finance committee.

The office of "mayor" is an ancient one, derived from the Latin for top man in the household - the mayors at the court of Charlemagne, for instance, went on to be come the kings of France. The title exists inside both the Anglo-Saxon political and the Roman-Continental political traditions. Wherever there are big towns and cities, mayors exist in some form although their exact functions differ.

In France, Germany, the United States and Australasia, mayors have executive powers, although they may answer to elected councils. Elsewhere, all major cities have mayors who act as their spokespeople, although in the case, say, of Shanghai in China, the post-holder is also a loyal Communist.

The mayor of Belgrade, Zoran Djindjic, is a powerful figure, with leverage in national politics. Similarly, the mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert is a highly partisan figure, who has taken a leading role in the controversial policy of expanding housing settlements in Palestinian areas. In New York, mayors have executive responsibility across a range of functions, including the police; but there is also a city-wide council and mini-councils for the five boroughs which make up New York City.

In the New Zealand city of Christchurch, Mayor Vicki Buck is herself a member of the city council but has separate responsibility for initiating policies - elected on a non-partisan ticket, Ms Buck is paid as a full-timer.