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London Referendum Friday, 10 April, 1998, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Should Londoners take a bite out of the Big Apple?
The mayor of New York holds the most powerful office in America's most powerful city. If Londoners say "Yes" to a mayor on May 7 then the capital's chief executive will without a doubt make a similar impression on the national stage. BBC South East's Political Correspondent Shaun Ley looks at what could be in store for Londoners.

Since the publication of the White Paper on London government we now have a clear idea of what powers and responsibilities the mayor will have. One thing is certain: This will be a job with real clout.

Directly elected by 5 million Londoners, the new mayor will be able to claim a substantial mandate. In New York, the mayor has a similar electorate, although voter turnout traditionally is much lower than in British elections.

In some ways, the authority of the mayor will come not from the formal powers but from that unique electoral platform. No other politician in the UK could claim such a personal vote. It changes the nature of the political debate.

Problem Solver

The lesson from New York is that such a personal vote allows the mayor to get things done.

Ed Koch
Ed Koch - the mayor always gets the blame
Take education. Under the New York system, the mayor has no formal power, beyond appointing a minority of the members of the Board of Education. In turn, they appoint the Schools Chancellor.

But recently when complaints about the quality of New York's schools created a political momentum, the mayor used his clout to get the chancellor replaced.

To no one's surprise, his replacement was a man more sympathetic to the mayor. Be under no illusion - London's mayor will do the same.

But there's a price. New Yorkers blame the mayor for everything. As former New York mayor Ed Koch once said, "If a sparrow falls off a branch in Central Park, people blame the mayor."

Then again, that is an incentive for him to use his influence to solve the city's problems.

A mayor for all seasons

New York, like London, is a remarkably heterogeneous city. The mayor has to be appeal to all kinds of communities and interests. He cannot simply be a party political figure. His appeal must be much broader.

Guiliani
Guiliani on the campaign trail
The current mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, is the quintessential example of how this works. A staunch Republican, Mr Giuliani governs with the support of the predominantly Democrat City Council.

Indeed, he even backed the Democrat candidate for governor of New York. Expect a Mayor Livingstone or Archer or Hughes to also draw their net much wider than the party label on the ballot.

Ed Koch
Guiliani has successfully cut down on crime
There is a final note of caution to be sounded. Elected mayors - even in New York - are not panaceas. The office is only as good as the man or woman occupying it.

While Mr Giuliani has made New York feel safe and prosperous, his predecessor did not.

The moral is this: Big cities may need big politicians. But big cities have big problems. And big egos don't always mean big ideas.

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