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.
“Obviously, it’s an eventuality that I try not to contemplate,” Mr. Johnson said during a break in campaigning for London’s May 3 mayoral election. “And I’m working very hard to make sure that I’m spared by the electoral reaper.”
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 $22 billion budget.
Mr. Johnson, a Conservative, hopes to win a second four-year term, while and Mr. Livingstone, London’s mayor from 2000 to 2008, is from Labor - but both transcend the parties they nominally represent.
Mr. Livingstone has the greater London ties. He was born and raised in the city, speaks with a nasal cockney accent and has been prominent in local politics since the 1970s.
Mr. Johnson, with his rhetorical flourishes and unmistakable shock of hair, is a more quintessentially British character: the erudite upper-class buffoon.
“Boris reeks of the notion of British character for a nation that’s self-identified as liking eccentrics and people who are a bit out of the ordinary,” said Tony Travers, a specialist in local government at the London School of Economics. “Ken is more technocratic - looking and in reality.”
Both men have tied their political fortunes, in part, to the Olympic Games: Mr. Livingstone helped lead the bid that brought the event to London. Mr. Johnson has presided over four years of preparation for the July 27-Aug. 12 extravaganza.
Mr. Livingstone says the Olympics already have proved their worth by transforming a grim, postindustrial patch of East London into the 500-acre Olympic Park.
“As far as I’m concerned, the benefits of the Olympics - we’ve had those already,” he said