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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
Mallon for 'Robomayor'?
The smartly-suited character with slicked-back grey hair cuts a striking figure as he strides into town.
Former 'Robocop' Ray Mallon is back on the streets of Middlesbrough and once again he means business.
The man famed for bringing zero-tolerance style policing to the UK is running to become mayor of the former steel town.
During an impromptu walkabout on the tough Grove Hill estate, pensioners and mothers rush to greet him with tales of crime-infested streets.
They huddle in groups to listen to the man who, in his heavy Teesside accent, promises "to do his best".
Others hang back from the furore and eye Mr Mallon with a deep suspicion, wary of his previous incarnation as a high-ranking police officer.
"We don't want their votes," Mr Mallon says of the latter.
"Those are the people who should fear me becoming mayor. Those are the people we want off the streets."
The maverick Mr Mallon has promised a war on lawlessness if he becomes Middlesbrough's first directly-elected mayor on 2 May.
The people he used to protect as a police officer want him to "do a Giuliani" and cut street crime through zero-tolerance from political office.
And although his mayoral manifesto extends beyond that of crime, it is the issue that dominates the thoughts of most living in Middlesbrough.
"No matter where I go in Middlesbrough, people tell me they are fearful of crime," said Mr Mallon.
"Law and order is being flagged up left, right and centre, particularly drug abuse and anti-social behaviour.
"As mayor I would have no authority over the police force, but I would have influence over how they do their job under the Crime and Disorder Act.
"That is what I intend to do."
Resident Valerie McMann is a strong supporter of Mr Mallon and reflects the views of most people on the Grove Hill estate.
"He is a man of action. He will do his very best to sort things out as he did when he was in the police force," she said.
In September 1997, Mr Mallon was suspended from Cleveland Police following allegations of misconduct.
He admitted to 14 disciplinary charges in February this year, bringing the £7m Operation Lancet inquiry - and his police career - to an end.
Mr Mallon maintains he only accepted the charges he had consistently denied in a "tactical" move to allow him to run for mayor.
His subsequent decision to run as a "people's" candidate without political colours has further severed a deeply divided Labour council.
Ten Labour councillors are openly backing his campaign.
But he has faced deep criticism from other parts of the Labour camp who have accused him of having a gung-ho attitude.
Eddie Dryden, a Labour ward councillor, said: "Mr Mallon doesn't want to be elected mayor, he wants to be elected Sheriff.
"He thinks wearing a big hat and shouting about crime will change things. It won't."
It is a feeling echoed by Labour mayoral candidate Sylvia Connolly who has openly criticised Mr Mallon's "Wild West" attitude to the campaign.
"Our campaign has been going well, people are very positive when I speak to them and I hope they will support Labour as they always have," she said.
"I do think there are many unworkable plans from Mr Mallon and I have concerns that he hasn't really thought about the job and what it means to run the town."
Mrs Connolly, a law lecturer at the University of Teesside, prides herself on having "practical" plans for the town.
Like her nearest rival in the polls, she too has pledged to cut crime - one idea is to increase the number of community wardens on the streets from 16 to 66.
Peter Riley, one of the town's wardens, believes Mrs Connolly's ideas will have a positive impact for residents.
"The scheme has only been up and running for a month, but we are having good feedback from members of the public.
"We act as a degree of reassurance to people, especially the elderly, who like the feeling that we are looking out for them."
Joe Michna, Liberal Democrat, is worried the whole mayoral election campaign has been hi-jacked by the issue of crime.
"I think the perception has been created that voters are electing some kind of sheriff who will come into town with guns blazing and get rid of all the baddies.
"It is more than that. It is about social services, education, running the town. The rest seems to have been pushed into the sidelines."
Conservative candidate Ron Derby believes the campaign has seen the emergence of "personality politics" instead of traditional allegiances.
Jeff Fowler of the Socialist Alliance agrees.
"People in Middlesbrough are disillusioned with the Labour party and are looking for something else.
"Whatever the outcome [of the election] I think we can expect some interesting times on Teesside."
13 Feb 02 | England
'Robocop' under fire from police chief
11 Feb 02 | England
'Robocop' is asked to resign
11 Feb 02 | England
Mallon: the man in profile
06 Feb 02 | England
'Robocop' ends bid to clear name
04 Oct 01 | UK
Super cop's town hall ambitions
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