Well, it is that time of year again.
And the winner is:
John So, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne’s longest serving and first elected Lord Mayor John So can be viewed as a positive symbol of diversity in Australian public life. Elected to a second term in 2004, the affection shown for Mayor So in the Victoria state capital has even manifested itself in a tribute record, possibly the first city leader to enjoy ‘cult status’. So is widely accredited with the successful staging of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and his assiduous efforts to promote the city abroad. The Mayor is also held up as an immigrant success story. Not many mayors can claim to have had a record made in their honour or a t-shirt proclaiming their name across residents’ chests (the ‘John So – he’s my bro’ garment, which was also the record’s title). As a mayor of Asian heritage in the strongly diverse city, Mayor So champions links with other Asian cities, emphasising sister city relations with Osaka, Japan and Tianjin, China and working within the Business Partner City Network of 12 global cities. Melbourne is Australia’s second largest city and describes itself as the nation’s cultural capital, though its prominence as a financial centre is undisputable. Since becoming Mayor, one of John So’s aims has been to engage with young people and to make sure they know they are a vital part of Melbourne society. He has succeeded. One young Melbournian wrote: “John So has captured the imagination of the people of his city. He has especially done so with young people. Where else in the world do people under 25 cheer and stamp and shout out the name of the mayor?”
This year’s runner up is Job Cohen, Mayor of Amsterdam, who just missed out on the top spot. We talked about him here:
Job Cohen, Mayor of Amsterdam, boasts an enviable record in national and city politics, academia and broadcasting, with plaudits from a range of opinion makers for his inclusive approach to politics and city life. In 2005, Cohen was named one of Time magazine’s ‘European Heroes’ for his stand on the notorious murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street in November 2004. Cohen led the city’s people in street protests, calling for unity and tolerance. Since the murder, which Cohen himself was targeted by the assassin, the mayor has sought to bring together the capital’s immigrant communities to facilitate dialogue against extremism, both by and directed at Muslim immigrants, in order to maintain its famous reputation for tolerance and liberal attitudes. In an essay, which opens with lines from Jacque Brel’s ‘In the port of Amsterdam’, Mayor Cohen writes: “Amsterdam, a modern city with all the problems, opportunities and, above all, its special aspects, is one of the smallest ‘world cities’. Some 170 nationalities make up its 750,000 inhabitants.” One commentator agreed wholeheartedly: “In a city like Amsterdam, with citizens from over 170 national backgrounds and an equally diverse ethnic population, the importance of understanding ethnic relations and their sensitivities cannot be overestimated. Among many Amsterdam people, there have been serious suggestions for Mr Cohen to take up the candidacy for Prime Minister. I’m convinced that Mr Cohen’s role as a mayor will be remembered for a very long time after he completes his term, in a positive way. It would be very good if he became the winner of World Mayor 2006, because it would mean a boost to those who work for harmony and peace – which in the current trends are not widely appreciated by the popular media.”