Former commander known for lenient approach to drug use
LONDON A sharp-witted but unruly quiz show host, an openly gay ex-police officer once branded by a tabloid as “commander crackpot” over his support for softer drug laws and an avowed leftist who keeps newts as pets: London’s looming mayoral election promises to be a clash of mavericks.
The eccentric field for the May election filled out Tuesday, Nov. 13, when Britain’s third-ranked Liberal Democrat party selected Brian Paddick, a gay former police commander known for his advocacy of a lenient approach on cannabis use.
Paddick and opposition Conservative party hopeful Boris Johnson a gaffe-prone legislator cherished for his humor and chaotic style seek to oust two-term incumbent Ken Livingstone, himself a longtime magnet for controversy.
Livingstone, first elected in 2000, has long raised eyebrows with his unguarded comments and choice of City Hall guests.
He has branded U.S. President George W. Bush as “the greatest threat to life on this planet,” told a Jewish reporter his job made him akin to a Nazi concentration camp guard and labeled Washington’s ambassador in London a “chiseling little crook.”
Since taking office, Livingstone who breeds newts has also pushed a raft of environmental policy measures, including a divisive $16 daily levy on city-center driving.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a strident critic of Bush and British ex-leader Tony Blair has been hosted at City Hall, striking a deal for a state-owned company to provide cheap oil for London’s iconic red buses.
But Livingstone, who also banned the feeding of pigeons in the city’s Trafalgar Square, has won two four-year terms and is praised for campaigning to secure the 2012 Olympics for London.
His challengers hope their foibles are as easily overlooked by London’s nearly 5.5 million voters.
Paddick was Britain’s highest-ranking openly gay police officer until he resigned this year.
He once claimed he was happy to “turn a blind eye” to minor drug use and, under his command, a London suburb launched an experiment in which those caught with marijuana escaped arrest.
Paddick told reporters Tuesday only he could unseat Livingstone, claiming Johnson could mount a challenge “if he was prepared to stop playing the fool which he’s not.”
But Johnson, admired for his comedic appearances on satirical TV news show “Have I Got News for You,” is likely to pose the greatest threat to Livingstone.
His unruly blond hair and liberal use of bygone phrases such as “crikey” and “gadzooks” endear him to many.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 16, 2007