Sadiq Khan, the Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London, has reached out to London’s Irish, stating that the city owes the Irish community a lot for making it great.

“As someone who was born and bred in London I know just how much we owe the Irish community for the role they’ve played in making London great,” Khan said in an exclusive interview with London Irish publication the Irish Post.

“Whether it’s the contribution of Irish teachers, nurses and doctors in our schools and hospitals, or the role of Irish entrepreneurs and businesses, we cannot underestimate the difference they make to our city,” he said.

Khan, 45, is the son of Pakistani immigrants. His father was a bus driver, his mother a seamstress. The fifth of eight children, Khan says he learned the meaning of hard work from a young age, holding down a paper route, working on building sites during the summer, and sleeping in a bunk bed in his family’s home until he was 24.

“Like many Irish people, my parents came to London to make a better life for themselves,” he told the Irish Post. “We didn’t have much, but they were able to save up to buy a house for our family.”

After studying law at the University of North London, Khan worked as a lawyer and a law lecturer until 2005, when he was elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament for Tooting. He became the second British Pakistani to serve a ministerial governmental role in 2008, when he was appointed Minister of State of Communities by Gordon Brown, who then made him Minister of State for Transport in 2009.

He later served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport, Secretary of State for Justice and Minister for London, before resigning from the post in May 2015 to seek the Labour Party nomination for Mayor of London.

In previous interviews, Khan has shared his parents’ experiences with prejudice after immigrating from Pakistan to London, shortly before Khan was born.

“My dad passed away in September 2003, so he never saw me in Parliament. But I think he would have been proud that his community in Tooting voted me in as their MP,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.

“When he and my mum first came to this country there were signs up where they lived: ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.’ He saw his children being racially abused and getting into fights. His 25 grandchildren have never experienced that. That’s why I’m an optimist.”

Khan is currently the front runner in the mayoral race, which takes place next Thursday, May 5, with bookmaker Paddy Power giving him odds of 1/16. His closest competitor is Zac Goldsmith of the Conservative Party.

The current Mayor of London is Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party, who has held office since 2008.