Ken Livingstone, London’s first mayor in modern times,
‘runs against himself’ in bid for third win in May election

It may come as a surprise to Western Hemisphere denizens who take voting for city and town mayors for granted that the practice is relatively new in the United Kingdom. Currently there are thirteen directly elected Mayors in England (including the Mayor of London).

The Greater London Authority Act 1999 first introduced the principle of a directly elected Mayor of London under universal suffrage into England. The first election was in 2000, and former leader of the abolished Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, won as an independent. However, the position is a strategic regional one, and quite different to that of local authority Mayors.

Most Mayors in the UK are ceremonial figures whose only real power is to chair sessions of their Councils. In 2000 the Labour government led by Tony Blair passed the Local Government Act 2000 which introduced the option of directly elected mayors for local authorities in England and Wales.

The Act ended the previous committee-based system, where functions were exercised by committees of the council, and produced three distinct methods of local authority administration (and the opportunity for the Government to define more by secondary legislation). All three separated the decision-making Executive function from backbench councillors and created opportunities for overview and scrutiny processes. — Carl Dow.

(CBS) Letter from London is Larry Miller's weekly look at news from across the pond.

For the first time since becoming London's first mayor in modern times, Ken Livingstone is in trouble. He's trying to secure a third term in office and the polls show he is trailing. The election is in May.

Five points ahead is Boris Johnson, a Conservative member of Parliament, known for his quick wit on TV quiz shows and for making politically incorrect remarks, then being forced to apologize.

Also running is Brian Paddick of the Liberal Democrats. He is a gay, former high-ranking Scotland Yard official, best known for encouraging police to take a hands-off approach to cannabis users.

It would seem as if more formidable candidates could have been found, but in this election, Ken Livingstone is running against himself and that is, perhaps, why he is behind.

Candidates for the office of Mayor of London are seen at a photo opportunity in central London in this Feb. 14, 2008 file photo. From left, Conservative Boris Johnson, Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, The Green Party's Sian Berry and incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone. (AP Photo/PA)

Livingstone has been in office for eight years, first as an independent when the Labor Party disowned him. He was reluctantly welcomed back into the fold. It's reported that Prime Minster Gordon Brown rarely meets Livingstone, such is his distaste for the mayor. While he may endorse Ken because he's the party's candidate, Brown does it while holding his nose.

To his credit, 62-year-old Livingstone has improved London's public transportation. He has implemented the congestion charge, which drivers must pay to enter the center of London. He's hired more police. He has a good relationship with the financial district, and he helped bring the 2012 Olympics to London.

But now the mayor is under fire for alleged corruption by his city hall cronies. Livingstone's highly paid advisor on racial issues, also a close friend, resigned after allegations that public money was paid to minority groups that did not use it for community projects, but kept the cash instead.

The aide and the mayor blame the media for a racist smear. Opponent Johnson claims Ken is "mired in maladministration." The police are investigating.

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There are lots of things about Ken that rub Londoners the wrong way. He is perceived as arrogant, responding to criticism with counter-attacks.

He is often seen with a glass of whisky early in the morning. He says he drinks it for medicinal purposes.

Livingstone is no friend of Israel and is proud of that. He has invited to London and previously met with a foreign Islamic cleric who calls for the death of Jews and gays and recommends husbands beat "disobedient wives." Livingstone has called this cleric a "leading progressive Muslim."

The mayor faced suspension after comparing a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard. It's been reported that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg refuses to meet with him.

Known as "Red Ken," his long held animosity for the U.S. government is well known. He has a bust of Ho Chi Minh in his city hall office. He's called President Bush "the greatest threat to life on this planet," and the U.S. ambassador "a chiseling little crook."

On taxpayer's money, he's visited Havana (hoping to meet Fidel Castro) and Venezuela, where he struck a deal for cheap oil with his friend and political bedfellow Hugo Chavez.

Many question what all this has to do with representing seven million people as mayor and being London's chief cheerleader.

The political winds in London are shifting and the polls suggest there could be a change on the way. Yet Livingstone isn't down and out - far from it. He is an astute politician, a fighter and a survivor, and it wouldn't be too surprising to see him running city hall for the next four years.