After Record Election, Mayor Wants a Swimmable Thames

In a London first, Sadiq Khan has won a third term
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 4, 2024 12:15 PM CDT
Khan Wins Record Third Term as London's Mayor
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his wife, Saadiya Ahmed, pause as they arrive to vote in London on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has cleaning up to do. Khan, who made history Saturday by becoming the city's first mayor elected to a third term, has pledged to make the River Thames swimmable. It's an audacious goal considering the waterway was declared biologically dead not long before his birth in the city in 1970 and flows as an open sewer of sorts when rains overwhelm London's ancient plumbing system. Taming the Thames would not be Khan's first swim upstream. The son of a bus driver and a seamstress from Pakistan, Khan's narrative is built around overcoming the odds, the AP reports.

He grew up in a public housing apartment with seven siblings in South London, attended a rough school, and went on to study law. He was a human rights lawyer before he was elected to Parliament in 2005 from the center-left Labor Party, representing the area where he grew up. In 2016, Khan became the first Muslim leader of a major Western capital city, overcoming an opponent whose campaign was "at least somewhat Islamophobic," said Patrick Diamond, a public policy professor at Queen Mary University of London. The election "was significant in a country which doesn't historically have a very strong track record for having diversity in its senior politicians," Diamond said, per the AP.

Despite his victories, Khan is not an incredibly popular mayor and has been blamed for many problems. The mayor of London doesn't have the authority of mayors in Paris or New York, however, because power is shared with the city's 32 boroughs and financial district. "He hasn't got absolutely everything right, but he is kind of a bringer together of different communities," said Jack Brown, a lecturer in London studies at King's College London. Brown isn't sure anybody wants to swim in the Thames, but Khan has made the project a priority. "We've made huge progress in cleaning up London's air, exceeding expectations," Khan said during the campaign, per Euronews. "Now it's time to clean up our waterways too." (Khan and Donald Trump have traded insults.)

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