LONDON — One sports an unruly blond mop, spouts Latin aphorisms and loves to ride his bicycle. The other is a neat, newt-loving socialist who prefers to travel by subway.
Their contest is an Olympic-size grudge match. Meet Boris and Ken — hometown celebrities known universally by their first names. When the 2012 London Games open on July 27, one of them will stand before billions of television viewers as mayor of the host city.
The incumbent, Boris Johnson, warns that it had better be him and not Ken Livingstone — his predecessor, intense rival and would-be successor.
Whoever wins, London’s next mayor will be a larger-than-life figure whose gaffes and idiosyncrasies would have sunk a less confident politician. The winner will oversee a world-class city of 8 million people and a 14 billion-pound ($22 billion) budget.
Johnson, a Conservative, hopes to win a second four-year term while Livingstone, London’s mayor from 2000 to 2008, is from Labour — but both transcend the parties they nominally represent.
His views on international issues are more controversial. Livingstone once called President George W. Bush “the greatest threat to life on this planet,” welcomed hard-line Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London, and was suspended from his post for a month after comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Livingstone denies anti-Semitism, but his words have alienated many Jewish voters.
Both men are also known for their busy private lives. Livingstone has five children with three women, while Johnson was once fired from a Conservative post for lying about an extramarital affair.
They seem to have a visceral animosity, getting into a shouting match in an elevator after a recent radio debate, with Johnson repeatedly calling his rival an “(expletive) liar” for claims about Johnson’s tax status.
The dispute ended with the candidates publishing their tax records, which showed that both earn many times more than the average Londoner: 1.7 million pounds ($2.7 million) over four years for Johnson; 342,000 pounds ($540,000) for Livingstone.