LONDON — Throughout his election campaign, Sadiq Khan had a simple mantra: London made me.
The city’s new mayor appealed to voters as a true child of Britain’s diverse and dynamic capital. Like many Londoners, he’s the son of immigrants, born to parents who came to Britain from Pakistan. Like more than 1 million of the city’s 8.6 million residents, he’s Muslim. And on Friday the 45-year-old Labour Party politician became the first person of Islamic faith to lead Europe’s largest city.
Khan won despite a concerted, and controversial, campaign by Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith to taint him with ties to Islamic extremists, claiming Khan had shared a platform with a radical London imam.
Khan, a former human rights lawyer, accused Goldsmith of trying to divide Londoners, and pointed out that he’d often shared platforms with people he disagreed with. His team unearthed photos of the imam meeting Goldsmith, too.
Khan stands on the political centre-left, and supported Labour policies including the legalization of gay marriage, a stance he said brought death threats.
Before polling day, he urged Londoners to “choose hope over fear” and back him.
Khan was born in London in 1970, one of eight children of a bus driver and a seamstress. He grew up in a three-bedroom public-housing apartment in south London, sharing a bedroom with brothers until he was in his early 20s.
Khan attended a local state high school with a gritty reputation. “It was a tough school … you had to be street-wise,” he told the New Statesman magazine.
He went on to study law at the University of North London before training as a solicitor. He became a partner in human rights law firm Christian Khan, and in 2005 was elected to Parliament for Tooting, the area where he grew up.
Khan served as communities minister in the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown before Labour lost power in 2010. His role included fostering cohesion in the years after the July 2005 London transit bombings, when al-Qaida-inspired suicide bombers killed 52 commuters.
Married to lawyer Saadiya Ahmed — the couple has two daughters — Khan is a fan of boxing, and colleagues say he’s a deft and powerful political operator.
A member of the mainstream, social-democratic strand of Labour, he’s more of a centrist than current leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was kept at a distance from Khan’s mayoral campaign. Khan was quick to criticize Labour members who made anti-Israel remarks and urged Corbyn to be tougher in stamping out anti-Semitism.
On the campaign trail, Khan said that London “gave me the helping hand I needed to fulfil my potential.”
He has spoken of his gratitude that his family had a secure, affordable home when he was growing up — something he fears younger Londoners are increasingly denied, in a city where market-rate rents and property prices have soared and local authorities build little social housing.
He says he’ll make housing his priority as mayor, building 50,000 new homes a year and giving locals “first dibs” on some new properties.
Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, said Khan’s policies were firmly in the political centre, but his election was a “remarkable step” for the city.
“The majority of people who voted for him will not have been Muslims,” Travers said. “So that does suggest that despite all the challenges of being a Muslim in the West, a city like London sort of shrugs its shoulders and says, ‘He’s a mainstream politician.'”
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By Jill Lawless, The Associated Press