‘This is the Conservative party’s candidate for mayor of London?’ That was the first thought that ran through my head when I met Boris Johnson at the party’s annual conference last year in Blackpool, which I attended at the invitation of David Cameron. Boris certainly didn’t look or sound like a politician — but then again, neither did I when I first campaigned to become mayor of New York in 2001.
Back then, the pundits had a field-day lampooning my campaign. They said I was inexperienced, which was true. They said I was a walking verbal gaffe, which was no less true. And they said I had no chance of winning, which certainly seemed true.
But New Yorkers in 2001, as with Londoners in 2008, were more sophisticated than they were given credit for by the chattering class. In each case, voters looked beyond superficial tabloid stories and marked their ballots for the candidate they believed most capable of fresh leadership on a host of critical issues, including a struggling economy and the spectre of rising crime.
The similar circumstances surrounding the improbable victories of Bloomberg and Johnson — and the similar issues that defined our campaigns — underscore how much New York and London have in common. While we traditionally think of the ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK as an alliance between two national governments binding the White House and Number 10, more and more there is an increasingly important economic, cultural, and intellectual partnership binding these two cities — almost like the great city states of the Italian Renaissance.
That seems only natural. We are — and here, please forgive the modesty of a New Yorker — the two greatest cities in the world. Some may argue that there are more romantic cities (Nous aimons Paris) and more historic cities (Viva Roma!), but of one thing there is no doubt: no two cities combine such staggeringly rich and diverse economic and cultural opportunities as New York and London.