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Who wants to be London's Giuliani?

The centuries-old British capital elects its first mayor next year.

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Being the mayor of a world-class city confers a certain distinction.

French President Jacques Chirac is the former mayor of Paris, and the current mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has his eyes on the Kremlin. New York's Rudolph Giuliani is internationally known for his campaign to improve the city's livability.

But until now, London has never had a mayor. The British capital sprawls over 610 square miles and is split up into 32 separate boroughs that are often given to squabbling with each other. It has no central authority to organize its affairs, and its 8 million inhabitants don't have an authoritative voice to speak for them at the national level.

The small financial district, a single square mile known as "the City," sports an officeholder grandly described as the Lord Mayor of London, the job Dick Whittington - famous in legend for variously heeding the advice of his cat, or "turning again" back to the city at the sound of church bells - sought and won in the 15th century. While the beribboned Lord Mayor annually parades through the streets of London in a horse-drawn carriage, his duties are only ceremonial and he is not democratically elected.

That's going to change after an election next May, and there is already a field of contenders, including a millionaire author, a Hollywood actress, and a left-wing socialist known for his pet newt collection.

Need for a mayor?

Not everyone is jumping for joy at the prospect of a mayor. Tom Freeman, an insurance executive, forecasts that "the first thing a mayor will do is put up taxes." He adds, "London has survived for centuries without a mayor, and we haven't done too badly."

Others, however, see a distinct bonus in having someone to tackle problems citywide.

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