MEET THE CANDIDATES – Social Democrats and the Liberal Party

On November 21, the Municipal and Regional elections are being held across Denmark. More than 360,000 internationals are eligible to vote. Up until the election, we will publish Q&As with the mayoral candidates in the Copenhagen Municipal election. Today, its Lord Mayor Frank Jensen from the Social Democrats, and Cecilia Lonning-Skovgaard from the leading opposition party, the Liberal Party

Lord Mayor Frank Jensen is the mayoral candidate for the Social Democrats (Socialdemokratiet) in Copenhagen Municipality.

Justice minister between 1996 and 2001, he was first elected Copenhagen’s Lord Mayor in 2009, and is now seeking a third term in office

Do you think that the city’s developer By & Havn is pursuing the right strategy regarding to whom it sells land, in terms of creating an inclusive and liveable city? For example, there are now concerns that even Papirøen – which currently houses a street food market – will be transformed into expensive apartments that are out of reach for ordinary citizens. Even if 25 percent of new housing is social, are we at risk of losing unique cultural and social space in the city with the current development strategy?

We have an urgent need for more housing, as Copenhagen is growing day by day. We want to keep our social and cultural spaces as vibrant and diverse as possible. I hope you get the same impression, when biking through the city on the weekend.

At Papirøen, we have made proposals to build an indoor swimming pool, something Copenhageners have longed for for decades. The current street food market and other activities on Papirøen will be moved further out on Refshaleøen, where there is even more space for creativity and visitors. Refshaleøen will be full of life and also host modern housing for students.

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The Liberal Party (Venstre) candidate for Lord Mayor, Ceclia Lonning-Skovgaard wants to close schools that don’t accept the government’s offer of extra funding for challenged schools. She argues that it demonstrates that the schools are not ambitious enough in improving the quality of student learning and outcomes. Why is she wrong?

I want to keep the long view in my approach to policy and refrain from grandstanding and populism. If the government starts to micromanage our city every time Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen gets a supposedly good idea, we’ll dissolve the trust that we’ve worked so hard on building up with strong principals, teachers, social workers and every other public employee in our city. Once you’re outside City Hall, the world is rarely black and white, and legislation works in a myriad of different ways.

When Lonning-Skovgaard proposes to shut down schools that are facing challenges, it makes me genuinely worried about the future of our bipartisan approach and long-term view of politics, and about the uncertainty it creates among city employees.

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Lonning-Skovgaard links the poor scholastic achievement of children of immigrants with gang and crime activity. At one point she proposed firing family members of convicted gang members employed by the municipality. Are tougher measures needed to disincentivise a life of crime?

Copenhagen is the biggest and most diverse city in Denmark. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t committed to constantly improving our schools, especially in neighbourhoods with a high proportion of immigrants. Education is the remedy for a bad start in life. And our education system is our most effective way of reaching youth.

I do not believe in punishing family members of criminals. Let’s say you’re the brother of a gang member, but you’ve worked your whole life to break away from his path with education and work. Now you’re employed in the city’s after-school care, and you’re doing an excellent job of keeping young kids off the street. Does anyone genuinely believe it would be good policy to fire you because your brother doesn’t possess the same willpower?

The finance minister has criticised the municipality for not lowering income taxes despite its budget surplus. Couldn’t Copenhageners benefit from paying less in property and income taxes?

Everybody could probably benefit from lower taxes, but it would impede our ability to deliver the best welfare to Copenhageners. Oh, and maybe the finance minister should compare the taxes in his hometown of Herning with Copenhagen before he criticises us – in Copenhagen the municipal tax rate is 23.8 percent, while in Herning it is 24.9 percent.

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Copenhagen remains a climate leader, but faces challenges reaching its CO2 goal unless more is done to reduce emissions, particularly from transport. Is this possible without government incentives to move toward electric vehicles? Why doesn’t the city bring forward its electric bus programme? And won’t banning diesel cars affect many ordinary families?

We’ve recently launched a clean air policy wherein we wish to ban new diesel cars from the city by 2019, speed up the conversion to electric busses so that every bus will run on clean energy by 2023, and make sure cruise ship captains turn off their ship’s engine when docked. Another big source of pollution are the wood-fired stoves in private homes. We’ve introduced a cash incentive for people to exchange them for newer and cleaner ones. With regards to diesel cars, they will be phased out gradually, making sure citizens have time to adapt. M

Cecilia Lonning-Skovgaard is the mayoral candidate for the Liberal Party (Venstre), the leading right-wing opposition party.

Lonning-Skovgaard has represented Venstre on the City Council since 2005, has a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University, and also works as a Senior Director at Dong Energy

Finance minister Kristian Jensen, who is also from Venstre, has criticised Copenhagen for not lowering its income tax rate despite running a large surplus. Do you agree with Jensen that taxes should come down?

Yes. Copenhagen is financially a very strong city, and we should be able to reduce taxes for ordinary taxpayers to make it more affordable, especially for families with young children, to live in Copenhagen. We know that property prices are high and it’s expensive to be here. Alternatively, we could lower taxes on business, as we have relatively high taxes compared with other cities.

READ MORE: “Putting citizens first”

The problem is we are throwing millions and millions of kroner away on things like green recycling baskets for organic waste. Overall, asking people to contribute to recycling is fine, but our main objection to the initiative is that it feels rushed out as a last hurrah for Morten Kabell [Deputy Mayor for technical and environmental affairs, who is not standing for re-election]. The system isn’t working, people are complaining about flies, it’s been expensive to distribute, and the biogas facility is a long distance from the city.

Venstre has historically been very pro-car. Is individual car ownership really the future for Copenhageners?

Leading up to the election, we have tried to broaden our position on transportation. We want to update and improve public transportation, especially the metro, which we want to build out to Nordhavn, Sydhavn, Refshaleøen and Brønshøj. Of course, we also need safe bicycle paths, too. And Copenhageners are buying more cars, which is why we want to build the harbour tunnel so drivers can avoid the city centre. We also want to develop car-sharing programmes, which are popular among the younger generation.

What about Frank Jensen’s proposal to ban diesel cars from the city? You wrote on Facebook that it wasn’t a realistic proposal. What is?

To start with, pollution levels are not rising to the levels that Frank Jensen is saying they are. But overall, our take on the environmental agenda is that we would much rather pursue solutions in which we offer residents positive incentives to shift towards new technology. For example, rather than banning diesel cars and wood-burning ovens, as the left wing has suggested, we could provide an economic incentive to retrofit cars and ovens with filters to reduce pollution. It’s hypocritical to ban these things while throwing taxpayers’ money away on green garbage cans or city bikes that aren’t working properly and so on. We want to respect ordinary taxpayers and their money and their ability to just lead their lives in Copenhagen.

The government created a special fund for underperforming schools this year, in which they can apply for around 1.4 million kroner a year for three years to boost performance. None of the Copenhagen schools that qualify have applied for the funding, however, arguing that the process was bureaucratic and that they had to demonstrate improvements in student performance before they even received the funding. But even though it’s voluntary, you have threatened to close the schools. Why?

It’s their choice to decline the funding, but for the life of me I can’t see why they would. What sort of signal are they sending to their students and teachers – that under no given circumstances can they improve in three years? It’s a massively wrong signal to send. I believe there is consensus in the city’s schools that it’s impossible to change anything – that there are students who are impossible to teach. But a quarter of students don’t learn to properly read, write, and do math. It’s not good enough. It’s not acceptable that we are worried about gangs, but then feed the gangs with students who have no basic skills and are unable to pursue a youth education. Maybe in this situation we need to tell the worst schools that they need to commit to immediate change, and if they do not change within a few years, to close them and open them again with a new profile and management.

In an interview with Politiken newspaper, you proposed firing municipality employees if their children continue in gang activity. Is that a policy you still stand behind?

I clarified my position afterward in which I explained that firing the parents of criminals is too severe and wouldn’t solve the problem. But Venstre in Copenhagen wants to stop welfare payments to registered gang members, and introduce stronger demands on families to supervise and support at risk or criminal children, or risk eviction from public housing or cuts to benefits.

How does it feel going into the election as the underdog?

Obviously it sets a certain framework for the election – we know we won’t win the position of Lord Mayor. So instead, we are looking to hold onto our mayoral position, improve on 2013, and start building toward 2021 or 2025. New residents are increasingly right-leaning, as are young people. But for now, I am energised, the party base is energised, and we are looking to fight for our lives. M


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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