- Associated Press - Friday, May 4, 2012

LONDON (AP) — London’s comic and outspoken mayor Boris Johnson won re-election Friday, triumphing in a closer-than-expected vote to secure a second term and his status as the unvarnished and unpredictable host of the 2012 Olympics

Johnson’s victory, in election results confirmed late Friday, was a bright spot on a rough day for his colleagues in Prime Minister David Cameron’s governing Conservative Party, who took a drubbing in local elections.

Voters stripped both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats — the junior partner in Britain’s coalition government — of hundreds of local authority seats, punishing the government for biting austerity measures and Britain’s stalled economy.

But the Conservatives could take some solace when it was announced that Johnson — known best for his shock of blond hair and sometimes shocking foul-mouthed outbursts — had eked out a win against the opposition Labour Party’s Ken Livingstone and earned the privilege of leading London into the global spotlight when the Summer Games begin on July 27.

In his victory speech at City Hall after hours of waiting for results, Johnson did not mention the Conservatives’ dismal showing in local elections and instead thanked those who voted for him during the “long and grueling” campaign.

“I want to thank all of you for giving me a new chance and a new mandate to take us forward,” Johnson said, pledging to continue “fighting for a good deal for Londoners.”

He also somewhat sarcastically described Livingstone — his predecessor as mayor — as one of the “most creative and most original” left-wing politicians he’d seen — a reference to the at-times bitter exchanges between the two candidates.

Livingstone called the defeat the one he will “most regret” in his four-decade career in electoral politics — which appeared to be over late Friday.

“This is my last election,” he told City Hall.

Many had expected Johnson, 47, to handily defeat Livingstone, a veteran leftist known for his admiration of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

But he won by a tighter margin than expected — 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent — and the drama of the race was heightened by delays in counting ballots. The result was announced just minutes before midnight — more than 24 hours after polls had closed.

Johnson’s victory could be bittersweet for Cameron — offering relief from his party’s national woes, but cementing the outspoken mayor as a likely future leadership rival.

Cameron’s Conservatives took a bruising in votes in the 181 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland which held polls this year, losing more than 400 seats — including some in the leader’s own political district.

Although the results won’t put Cameron’s leadership in jeopardy, they prompted grassroots Conservatives to urge him to ditch some of his more liberal policies, including the planned introduction of same-sex marriage.

Johnson, who has appealed to traditionalists with messages on tax cuts and looser ties to Europe, is increasingly seen as a plausible national leader — not least for bucking his party’s national slump.

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