BERLIN (AP) – Berlin’s mayor broke ground 13 years ago by winning election after coming out as gay. Now a top candidate to succeed him wants to make history of his own: Palestinian-born Raed Saleh is seeking to become Berlin’s first immigrant mayor.
Saleh, who was born in the West Bank and came to Berlin at age five, offers a story of social advancement he hopes will win over voters and set an example for others.
The son of a Palestinian “guest worker” who brought his family to then-West Berlin in the early 1980s, the 37-year-old Saleh started out working at Burger King and later co-founded a company that offers printing services.
“At the moment, a lot of young people have the feeling that they don’t have a share” in society, he told The Associated Press. Berlin is home to a large immigrant community, including many people with Turkish roots, some of them poorly integrated.
Saleh joined the centre-left Social Democrats of the current mayor, Klaus Wowereit, at 18 and rose steadily up the local party hierarchy. When Wowereit announced in August that he was stepping down, Saleh – now the party’s regional caucus leader – became a natural candidate to succeed him.
Members of the Social Democrats are choosing between Saleh and two other contenders to be their party’s pick in a postal ballot that closes October 17. The mayor will be elected by the Berlin state parliament in December. Since a Social Democrat-led coalition has a majority in the legislature, the party ballot’s winner is all but guaranteed to get the job.
Saleh says his election could help give “courage and hope” to millions of people, showing that everyone is equal regardless of where they were born. “This would of course be a great signal, and we would make history together here in Berlin,” he said. Saleh pledges to focus on education and to take personal control of attracting business to the city.