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Boris Johnson and Other Strange Big City Mayors

London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, known simply as Boris to his ardent fans in Britain, seems all but certain to reclaim his post in the mayoral election scheduled for Thursday.  But the enthusiasm Johnson inspires is only partly related to the policies he’s pursued in office; it has as much to do with his shaggy hair, quirky personality, quick wit, and idiosyncratic habits. Londoners, however, aren’t the only ones who have a quirky mayor to call their own. Here’s a list of other (more or less) distinguished residents of City Hall. 

Boris Johnson
London, England 
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that before he entered politics—he was elected to Parliament as a member of the Conservative Party in 2001, a seat he held until being elected mayor in 2008—Johnson was a professional journalist and author. Indeed, among his political trademarks (aside from his shaggy hair) has been the special delight he takes in causing controversy with words: Johnson has a long history of making the news for stirring up trouble with off-the-cuff remarks, including statements on gay marriage and Islamophobia (he has since altered his stance on both issues). But his tenure hasn’t just been an extended improv act: Since being elected, he has banned the consumption of alcohol on public transit, promoted cycling with a city-wide bike-rental service, and set up a fund to promote small business in the outer-boroughs of London.

Rahm Emanuel
Chicago, Illinois
Before he was chief of America’s Second City, Rahm was among the most notoriously powerful political fixers in the nation’s capital. (Before that, he was an aspiring ballet dancer.) As former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, and staff member in Bill Clinton’s White House, “Rahmbo” was widely known for his volatile way with words. (Before British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared together with President Clinton amidst the Lewinsky scasndal, Rahm’s simple advice to him was: “This is important. Don’t f*** it up.”) As mayor, however, Emmanuel’s ambitious plans (including an extension of the city’s 5-hour 45 minute school day) ran up against the brute facts of the city’s nearly $700 million budget deficit: Good reason for Rahmbo to quickly work on polishing his diplomatic skills.

Michael Bloomberg
New York, New York
The billionaire Michael Bloomberg isn’t just mayor of New York City—he’s its richest resident.  Even after spending some $30 million to pre-order a V22 Osprey hybrid helicopter-plane, “Hizzoner” still had enough disposable income leftover to forcibly change the city’s electoral laws so he could run for a third consecutive term in 2009. What has he done with his unprecedentedly long stint as mayor? He did much to reduce the city’s deficit, but he’ll probably best be known for his eccentric obsessions with public health: He banned smoking in practically all public places in New York and required restaurants to publicly display the nutritional information of their food. He’ll probably also be remembered for several things he didn’t accomplish—namely, bringing the Olympics to New York, and using City Hall as a launching pad to run for President. Meanwhile, New York's tabloids are left to speculate whether Bloomberg’s lip-lock with Lady Gaga on New Year’s eve portends a future marriage for the famously single mayor.

Klaus Wowereit
Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a city famous for its economic malaise, but that hasn’t seemed to bother its perpetually sunny, feel-good mayor. “Berlin is poor but sexy,” Wowereit famously declared early in his first term, a quote that angered—and continues to anger—Berliners who lament the city’s stubborn 20 percent unemployment rate. But his lack of economic prowess—and his penchant for indulging in the city’s nightlife—hasn’t put a significant dent in the mayor’s approval ratings: He was elected last year to his third consecutive term. Some speculate that the key to his popularity is his affability and evident comfort in his own skin: “I’m gay, and that’s a good thing,” he affirmatively declared upon outing himself as a homosexual in 2001.

Bertrand Delanoë
Paris, France
Delanoë hasn’t had a particularly distinguished eleven years in office, but he has rightfully earned fame for his honorable response to one incident that occurred in 2002. Attending a city-wide evening of festivities that attracted some 400,000 people, the mayor was stabbed in the stomach by a Muslim immigrant (who later told police he hated Delanoë for being a politician, a Socialist, and a homosexual.) The mayor accepted the medical assistance that was called on his behalf, but not before calmly insisting that the festivities continue without him. The deputy mayor, Christophe Girard, who was at the mayor’s side, reported that “he was very firm, very calm, and completely determined that an isolated incident should not affect what was supposed to be a great festival of Paris for the Parisians.” The party did, indeed, go on; Delanoë, for his part, left the hospital after about two weeks. 

Thomas Menino
Boston, Massachusetts
Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston is likely to be remembered primarily for the sheer tenacity with which he has held on to his office. A political lifer, Menino is now in his fifth term and nineteenth year as mayor of Boston, which makes him the city's longest-serving mayor ever. In his first campaign, Menino promised to only serve a total of two terms, but he clarified the statement in 2000 during his campaign for a third term saying, “I promised I’d serve two terms—in every century.” He has also earned renown, if not acclaim, for his propensity for malapropisms and dubious exertions of political influence. Despite it all, however, Menino has maintained his consistent popularity among Boston residents, according to numerous public opinion polls.