LONDON (RNS) Londoners have elected the son of a Pakistani-born London bus driver as their mayor, making him the first Muslim to govern this city of 8.5 million residents.
Sadiq Khan, a 45-year-old Labour Party member, trounced his opponent, the Conservative Party’s Zac Goldsmith, 41, a well-known writer on ecological affairs and son of one of Britain’s wealthiest Jewish businessmen.
Khan may be the first Muslim mayor to be elected to lead a Western European city. Rotterdam’s Ahmed Aboutaleb was appointed rather than elected to the post in 2009.
The campaign turned bitter with accusations that Khan was an extremist and a terrorist sympathizer.
On May 1 Goldsmith wrote an article in Britain’s “Mail on Sunday” newspaper headlined: “Are we really going to hand the world’s greatest city to a Labour Party that thinks terrorists are its friends?”
The paper ran the article alongside a picture of a double-decker London bus blown apart in the 2005 terror attack that left 52 people dead.
The piece provoked outrage among Labour Party supporters and most Londoners.
Even members of the Conservative Party were shocked, with Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, a Muslim member of Parliament, tweeting: “This is not the Zack Goldsmith I know.”
Khan strongly denied links with Islamists or claims that he had ever been anti-Jewish.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader who has been under intense media fire for not clamping down on anti-Semitism among a small number of his close supporters, said the smear campaign backfired.
“So many people are just revolted by what was said about Sadiq, and they came out and voted for us,” he said.
Khan will replace Mayor Boris Johnson, who many expect to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.
First, though, Khan may have to withstand court challenges to the election.
Thousands of people were turned away from polling stations in Barnet, North London, after officials were given incomplete lists of registered voters.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and his wife were among those affected.
Barnet has a higher proportion of Jews than any borough in London — 15 percent — with 1 in 3 members of the Jewish community in London living there.
Khan is a lawyer and served under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Khan was appointed a member of the elite Privy Council in 2009 and was the first Muslim to attend Cabinet meetings.
He and his wife have two daughters.
In recent years, Khan has visited synagogues and has nurtured strong relations with Britain’s Jewish leaders.
Those close to him say he was bitterly hurt by accusations he was once associated with extremists or was in any way anti-Semitic.
London has two mayors — the largely ceremonial position of lord mayor of the city and the more recently established political mayor of London, the post held for the last eight years by Johnson and before him by Ken Livingstone.
(Trevor Grundy is an RNS correspondent)