KV17 – STORY # 5 – FALL FROM POWER
IN DANISH, KV17 IS SHORT FOR MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 2017. ON 21 NOVEMBER, DANISH VOTERS WILL DECIDE THE POLITICAL COMPOSITION OF 98 MUNICIPAL COUNCILS AND 5 REGIONAL COUNCILS. THIS TAKES PLACE EVERY FOUR YEARS, AND ALWAYS ON THE THIRD TUESDAY IN NOVEMBER. THIS IS CAST IN STONE AND DIFFERS FROM ELECTIONS FOR PARLIAMENT, WHICH CAN BE CALLED BY THE PRIME MINISTER WITHIN THE PERIOD OF MAXIMUM FOUR YEARS. DURING THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN, I WILL POST A SERIES OF STORIES ABOUT SMALL AND LARGE ISSUES THAT DEFINE THE SPECIAL ‘DEMOCRATIC CULTURE’ OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN DENMARK.
STORY # 5
YOUNG AND SUCCESSFUL MAYOR IS FORCED TO RESIGN
Photo taken from one of the TV-channels of Danish Radio on the day she resigned.
Just before the election campaign got started for real, and a few days before the posters were placed in lampposts in the stormy streets of Copenhagen, one of the top politicians of the city met her Waterloo. This is the story of Mayor Anna Mee Allerslev, a young woman who rose quickly to the top of her Social Liberal party in biggest city of the country, and then fell quickly to the bottom when the press started to look into her behaviour and some of her decisions.
Is this a normal feature of Danish municipal politics? Is there anything the voters – and the politicians – can learn from her example?
Reaching the top of municipal politics – in this case the City of Copenhagen politics – is not easy. It takes a lot of good luck; it probably requires a lot of good connections with the right people in both your own party and in other parties; you definitely need to be a smart person willing to invest long hours of hard work; and of course you will also need to be able to communicate with your electorate and attract the needed amount of votes every four years.
Despite being only 25 years old in the 2009 municipal election, when Anna Mee Allerslev first ran for office, what we know today seems to indicate that she was both lucky, hard working, smart and popular – at least among the voters.
Despite her youth, she was not inexperienced when she first became mayor. Like many young politicians, she grew up in her party’s youth wing, where she became Deputy Chair. She had also worked as an assistant to the powerful Margrethe Vestager, former leader of the Social Liberal party and today one of the most influential EU Commissioners, and she was a member of the board and the executive committee of her party. She received 837 personal votes in her first election, and this landed her a seat in the powerful committee for technical and environmental affairs, at a time when she was still a student at the university.
One year later, the mayor for Integration and Employment resigned, and Anna Mee Allerslev was appointed by her party to take over. She was only 26 years old. One newspaper scornfully called her “The Teenage Mayor”, stating that she had made the ‘Danish Dream’ a reality: “Moving from being on study support to receiving a salary as mayor without doing anything but joining a political party.”
The voters did not buy that argument. In the 2013 municipal election, she received 8.512 personal votes – the runner up candidate in the party only got 1.294. This meant that she could continue as mayor. Certainly a success story at the age of only 29.
In August 2017, the young politician also got married, and like many couples these days, she got married at City Hall. She also decided to host a reception at City Hall, and this turned out to be the beginning of her downfall. A morning paper found out [possibly through sources at City Hall that would like to see her fall, for whatever reasons], and also learned that she had not paid anything to use the city hall facilities, contrary to what citizens using the facilities had to. She also used city hall employees to prepare for the festivities. There were also other stories surfacing, indicating that she might not have the mature judgement that you would expect from a high level politician.
After days of unfriendly and damaging front page stories as well as television coverage, key people in her own party starting to critisize her conduct, and she was asked to consider stepping down as the front runner on the list for the upcoming elections. At the end of the day, she had no choice but to step down immediately, both as mayor and council candidate for her party. So she did, with cameras rolling and direct coverage by the major television channels.
Maybe she has actually done something which is not in line with rules and regulations, and maybe not [there are indications that other politicians have more or less done what she has done]. Maybe some of the papers made the various issues uncovered more sensational that they merited, and maybe not [this would of course not be new]. Maybe some of her party colleagues used the occasion to position themselves, and maybe not [people with knowledge about the internal politics of the party believe that this could very well be the case]. Putting all the pieces together, the sense you get is that Anna Mee Allerslev was not a popular politician or person among other politicians, nor was she popular among city council staffers.
Yes, it is true that if we had not had an aggressive and vigilant press, it is likely that we would never have heard about the behaviour of a young politician, who had difficulty deciding what she can and cannot do, when the voters have entrusted you with political power to manage people and budgets.
Such a dramatic fall from grace is not typical of political life in Denmark, but it does happen, both in municipal politics and in national politics. The present Prime Minister [like a former Liberal Party Prime Minister] has experienced something similar – and he survived, after a period in the shadows. In the early 1980s, a Social Democratic mayor in the north of Denmark was involved in a scandal, which ended up in court, and the mayor was actually sentenced for receiving bribes – he then decided to run on his own list and received more than 13.000 personal votes.
Therefore, when some commentators point to the issue of age as the explanation, I disagree in this particular case. We have many examples of ‘mature’ and seasoned politicians, who have had difficulty deciding what is reasonable and allowed, and what is not. Maybe the issue is more about a ‘political culture’, where position and power makes it easier – maybe even reasonable and normal – for you to get access to certain advantages that ordinary citizens are not in a position to get access to. This needs to be stopped and changed, because even the smallest of cases contributes to a further widening of the already huge gap of distrust between citizens and those elected to represent us.
I am sure that other high level politicians have noted the fate of Anna Mee Allerslev, and she can serve as a warning. However, some never learn, so we will no doubt see new examples like this in the future – if the media happen to find out.