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Culture

Eight major mayors

Claire Leavey
From the moderniser and the martyr to the gentleman and the goat, meet our pick of the most memorable municipal managers in history.

The Moderniser: Fatima Zahra Mansouri, Marrakech, Morocco

In 2009 Fatima Zahra Mansouri became the first female mayor of the city of Marrakech, and the second woman elected to the office in Moroccan history. “People were surprised to see someone like me elected,” Mansouri said in an interview with Time. “I realised they were hungry for change.”

Her Western-style political campaign was unprecedented in a conservative country where even questioning the King’s rule can result in arrest, and her election punctured a revolutionary bubble swollen by boys’ club corruption and uncontrolled development. Her challenge has been to rein in building projects, while simultaneously modernising an archaic civic system.

Peace is returning to society, golf courses no longer seem to be multiplying and, working from a deficit that stood at $90 million in 2009, last year the city’s budget was in surplus to the tune of $130 million.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Ms Mansouri is tipped for even greater things.

The Martyr: Dr Maria Santos Gorrostieta, Tiquicheo, Mexico

“I have a responsibility towards… the children, women, elderly and men who each day rip apart their souls just to bring home a loaf of bread,” said Dr Maria Santos Gorrostieta, defending her refusal to resign despite losing her husband during an attack that left her so badly injured she needed a colostomy bag. In fact, she survived a total of three attacks before her gruesome murder by a drug cartel.

Michoacàn state grows marijuana and poppies, but it’s also an important staging post for cocaine in transit from the south, and methamphetamine materials from Asia. At least 50,000 lives have been claimed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006, and on 15 November 2012, Dr Gorrostieta was another victim. On the school run, she was dragged from her car, beaten up and abducted. Her body was later found dumped in the street. She was 36.

The Equaliser: Ahmed Marcouch, Slotervaart, Netherlands

Moroccan-born Muslim Ahmed Marcouch has been stirring controversy since before Slotervaart’s split from Amsterdam in 2010. More than half of its 48,000 inhabitants were born in Morocco, Turkey or Suriname, and youngsters are in constant friction with police and indigenous locals.

Marcouch’s governance is fearless and has made him equally loved and despised. He is vocally against Islamism, anti-Semitism and anti-feminism and he’s known for his crackdown on violent homophobia. He’s hated by some fellow immigrants and was labelled a traitor for asking Moroccan fathers to control their children.

The Pioneer: Susanna M Salter, Argonia, Kansas, USA

The first American woman elected to any political office was Susanna M Salter who, at the age of 27, became mayor of Argonia, Kansas. Born Susanna Madora Kinsey, the descendent of English Quaker colonists, she attended Kansas State Agricultural College, but became ill, dropped out and married Lewis Salter, moving to Argonia with her new husband and becoming an activist in the radical temperance movement.

A friend was Carrie Nation, notorious for vandalising pubs with a hatchet. Mrs Salter was elected Argonia’s mayor in April 1887, but her first milestone actually came in 1883, when she gave birth to the first baby to be born in the fledgling city. She had a total of nine children, including one born during her term of office. She continued to live in Argonia until 1893, and died in Oklahoma in 1961, two weeks after her 101st birthday.

The Comedian: Jón Gnarr, Reykjavik, Iceland

A friend of Björk and former bassist in a punk band called Runny Nose, Jón Gnarr’s previous career was characterised by pure comedy: writing and performing radio, TV, standup, a play, and television ads. He also starred in the award-winning 2009 film Bjarnfreðarson, which in Iceland beat Avatar on its opening weekend.

Gnarr formed his party, Best, in response to the 2009 banking crash ‒ and six months later he was in office. “Best party,” Gnarr told The Guardian earlier this year, “is like the first little mammal in the land of the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs don’t know that their time is over yet. And the little guy, who’s mostly in his hole, he’s the future.”

Gnarr has also led Reykjavik’s Gay Pride parade dressed in drag, made official appearances in Jedi kit and successfully banned military craft from the city’s airport.

The Goat: The Late Clay Henry III, Lajitas, Texas, USA

“He is admittedly a symbolic figure,” said The New York Times of Lajitas’s late mayor, a goat named Clay Henry III, in 2002. “He does not involve himself with zoning or ribbon cuttings. He is not a strategic planner. His claim to fame is that he drinks beer.”

Clay Henry III was a third-generation mayor. His grandfather was elected in 1986, but died in a fight at the age of 23 and is now stuffed and on display. Clay Henry III took up office in 2000, and all three Clay Henrys’ shared taste for Texas-brewed Lone Star bottled beer spread their fame far beyond the border town. Clay Henry III passed away in 2011, having fathered no future mayors, after a dispute over a stolen bottle of beer resulted in his castration. The post currently stands open.

But Lajitas is not the only place to hand over the reins of power to a four-legged candidate. After the death of former Rabbit Hash, Kentucky mayor Junior Cochran in 2008, Lucy Lou was duly elected to the post, beating nine dogs, a cat, a donkey and a possum. Mayor Lou has lived in the town (population 315) her whole life, and is a red and white Border collie.

Over in Talkeetna, Alaska, Stubbs the cat had held his post with popular support for 15 years, but this year was left with serious injuries following a brutal attack. This was the latest in a series of alleged assassination attempts; previous attacks include an air-rifle shooting, ‘falling’ into a deep-fat fryer and narrowly escaping being crushed by a garbage truck.

The Young One: Bobby Tufts, Dorset, Minnesota, USA

In April 2013, Mayor Bobby Tufts celebrated winning a second term with dinner, a fishing trip, and a bonfire in the garden. Re-elected by blind draw, he made plans to spend the coming year raising funds for charity, and to erect new welcome signs at entrances to the town. “He’s having a long day, but he’s done really well,” said his mother of the victory.

Mayor Tufts will be five in October, taking the title of world’s youngest mayor from 15-year-old Bashaer Othman, who took office for two months in 2012 in a West Bank town. She was Allar’s first female mayor, as part of a youth empowerment scheme.

The Gentleman Speedfreak: Boris Johnson, London, UK

The capital’s mayor since 2008, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s public pronouncements often include linguistic backflips not seen since the 1700s, such as an assertion that Olympic athletes should “definitely” run naked.

Until speeding penalties brought matters to a close, Boris wrote a motoring column for GQ. “I know why I can’t remember the colour of the car,” he said of the Lotus Elise 111S. “It was just going too fast. It was red shift. It was the Doppler effect. It was one of those special colours known only to linguistic philosophers. It was grue. It was bleen. It was emerire. It was sapphald.”

London is holding up.

Image credit: CC Matt Brown.

Gnarr has also led Reykjavik’s Gay Pride parade dressed in drag, made official appearances in Jedi kit and successfully banned military craft from the city’s airport

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