Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
But what happened to the skateboard?
What do you give the mayor who has everything? That’s easy: a skateboard.
That, at least, appears to be the understanding that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was operating under in October 2017 when he bestowed a hot-pink skateboard on London Mayor Sadiq Khan. This important information just cropped up on a list released by Khan’s office documenting, in the interests of total transparency, all the presents London’s chief rep has received since taking office in 2016.
It’s not clear if Garcetti himself chose the board, or its color scheme. Certainly, Khan is an advocate of gas-free mobility. And I suppose the helical staircase inside London’s blob-shaped City Hall would make a pretty sweet ramp.
The prospect of Mayor Khan doing a double-heel-flip aside, the list makes for good reading—it’s a revealing glimpse at the lumber cities exchange in goody bags to each other. Anyone hoping for a smoking gun suggesting backhanders to Mayor Khan in return for influence will be sorely disappointed by the inventory, which catalogs a suitably modest and occasionally mundane roster of freebies...
The “clothing accessories” given by Giorgio Armani in 2016 sound pretty nice, assuming they weren’t socks, as do the Three Entire Boxes of mangoes from the chief minister of the Punjab region of Pakistan. Khan also snagged free tickets to the opening night of the London production of Hamilton—those were in very high demand. Another good get: Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel handed over a guitar signed by blues legend Buddy Guy in 2017. In fact, an earlier gift from Chicago of a record signed by Buddy Guy suggests that Mayor Khan is either a huge (but undocumented) fan of Guy’s signature electric blues, or that Chicago has a warehouse full of Buddy’s memorabilia to shift.
The Not So Good
Imagine, if you can, that you are a terrible person who dreams of rising to high office and then milking its perks for all they are worth. You probably aren’t lying awake dreaming of a glass ornament in the shape of the rock of Gibraltar—which sounds like a door stop in the making—or a round-trip train ticket from London to Birmingham (paid for by the BBC). Meanwhile, I am informed by U.S. colleagues that being given free tickets to watch the NFL’s 0-16 Cleveland Browns (at London’s Twickenham Stadium in October 2017) is about as enticing as being given a sandwich that’s been left out in the rain. A framed front cover of London’s Evening Standard newspaper might sound a more suitable gift—except that the paper’s coverage during campaign season was overwhelmingly slanted in favor of Khan’s opponent. At best, this one will end up gracing the wall of an out-of-the-way bathroom.
The mayor of the Chinese industrial metropolis of Shenzhen gave Mayor Khan a Jimu robot made in his own city, which makes perfect sense. But I’m not sure why the Chinese ambassador to the U.K. chose to hand over this celebrated Chinese product: two bottles of Puligny-Montrachet 2014 Doudet-Naudin, a very nice white Burgundy wine. Elsewhere, the gift of a book about the architect Santiago Calatrava came from…the architect Santiago Calatrava. (Calatrava is also giving London a £1 billion bridge project; given his reputation as a bearer of municipal-coffer-draining boondoggles, it is possible that the mayor would find it cheaper to just keep the book.)
Sport, Sport and More Sport
Mainly, however, the gifts are a load of balls, or related to people who play with them. In addition to the Browns game, Mayor Khan got free tickets to the Wimbledon men’s final, uniform jerseys from three U.S. sports teams and a U.K. a soccer team, a book on boxing, and a photo of Muhammad Ali. This all fits with Khan’s public profile as a sports fan—soccer-wise, he’s talked quite a lot about being a fan of Liverpool. There’s more to it than this, though. The mayor says he wants to make London the sporting capital of the world, and has been actively encouraging U.S. leagues in sports that are somewhat exotic to Britain. The NBA and NFL played London games last year and is due to host Europe’s first-ever MLB game in 2018. Given Khan’s sporty reputation, I imagine these are tickets and goodies that actually got used (at least by someone in the mayor’s office, if not the mayor himself).
And the skateboard? We’re trying to trace its fate. Reached for a comment, a Khan staffer told CityLab over the phone that they “don't even know who would know.” The Mayor’s Office has since ignored our mails.