Three strikes, you’re out for the mayor of The Hague

Edition 31 October 2019, by Johannes Visser

The city of The Hague last month lost its mayor and two aldermen in very quick succession. ‘Political selfdecapitation’ blared one newspaper; ‘total administrative chaos’, another. But with three of the city’s most important and controversial politicians voluntarily stepping down without much of a fuss, the self-cleansing mechanism of Dutch democracy was on full display. On 6 October, Pauline Krikke announced her departure as mayor of The Hague with immediate effect. It came a few days after the investigation report on the Scheveningen bonfires of New Year’s Eve, in which the Dutch Safety Investigation Board (Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid, OVV) passed a strong verdict against both the mayor and the builders of the bonfires. The report concluded that Krikke should have intervened when it became clear that the wood piles were much higher than agreed. But she didn’t, and the massive bonfires led to a spectacular and extremely hazardous sparkle blizzard over Scheveningen, resulting in damages to properties and roads.

Burgomistress wavering How different things were when Krikke started as mayor in 2017. All of The Hague’s political parties praised the successor of Jozias van Aartsen for her experience as VVD alderman in Amsterdam and former mayor of Arnhem. Krikke chose to have a strong focus on combating domestic violence, calling for a quicker process of issuing restraining orders even if victims did not dare to press charges. She was seen as a can-do troubleshooter, keeping her constituents close at heart. A true ‘mother of the citizens’, she was appreciated by the people of The Hague for her approachability, listening to their concerns and comforting them. But back at city hall, things weren’t all that rosy. Several councilors and civil servants complained that at times Krikke was too dominant, at others too passive. She lost her chief of staff after a year and a half, when he concluded he was allowed almost no space to do his job. Krikke was also criticized for jumping the gun when she spoke about Malek F., the ‘Syrian cutter’, when soon after his knife attack wounding three people, she called him a ‘confused person’ instead of ‘terrorist’. These were not new complaints about Krikke’s way of doing things, as during her tenure as mayor of Arnhem and director of the National Maritime Museum, many employees had complained about her ‘my way or the highway’ (‘Krikke of stikken’) leadership style.

Fire, farmers, fraud After the OVV report came out, Krikke was in hot water. The conclusions about her indecision during New Year’s Eve, but also her attempts to suppress an independent investigation afterwards, were damning. Still, she might have survived the political fallout and even overcome other doubts about her leadership. But then the farmers’ protests happened on 1 October. Thousands of farmers from across the country drove their tractors to the Dutch capital, angry about the national environmental policy and especially its measures for reducing nitrogen emissions. Krikke had put out an order forbidding them to enter the town, but they came anyway and drove straight through the fences around the Malieveld. Responsible for public order and security, the mayor looked rudderless. Then, a few days later, the National Police raided the houses of two prominent city aldermen, Richard de Mos and Rachid Guernaoui of the largest ruling party, Group De Mos/Heart for The Hague. After months of having their phones tapped, they were charged with illegally issuing licenses to catering entrepreneurs who were their friends. The two aldermen also happened to be the two main backers of mayor Krikke. When she forcefully demanded that they step down in order to uphold the integrity of the public office, she undermined her strongest support base. Three strikes, you’re out For a moment it had looked as if the corruption scandal might have been a diversion for Krikke’s own political headaches, but it ended up hastening her exit. After the two aldermen resigned, their party immediately joined the others calling for Krikke to step down as well. A city council meeting was scheduled to debate her position, but the mayor already knew her political support had bottomed out. She posted a short video on Instagram, directly addressing the inhabitants of The Hague: “I have been mayor of The Hague with all my heart and soul. This is difficult for me, but I have just offered my resignation to the King’s Commissioner with immediate effect.”

And just as all the political parties had cheered for her nomination as mayor, they now lauded her ‘courage’ for stepping down. On the streets, people said they would miss her. As of now, former VVD minister Johan Remkes has been appointed interim mayor. In The Hague city hall, it’s back to business as usual.