Job Cohen, former Mayor of Amsterdam

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Job Cohen
former Mayor of Amsterdam
By Andrew Stevens

21 April 2006: The mayor of the Dutch capital can point to an enviable record in national and city politics, academia and broadcasting, with plaudits from a range of opinion makers for his inclusive approach to politics and city life. Appointed mayor in 2001, he was named one of Time magazine’s ‘European Heroes’ in 2005. Job Cohen was runner-up in World Mayor 2006.

Update, November 2010: Profile of Amsterdam's new mayor Eberhard van der Laan

Update, April 2010: Job Cohen resigned a month ago (March 12th) to become party leader of the Social Democratic Party. If he wins the elections of 9 June, he will probably become prime minister. Acting Mayor of Amsterdam is Lodewijk Asscher (35), formerly vice-mayor for Economic Affairs, who will be in office until the provincial authorities have selected the new candidate mayors out of which City Council has to choose a new Mayor (to be appointed by the National Government). In the Netherlands mayors are not elected but appointed. (Information supplied by Arnan Oberski, Kabinet van de Burgemeester/ Mayor's Office)

Cohen was born in 1947 in the neighbouring city of Haarlem to liberal Jewish parents. He attended the gymnasium in Haarlem before studying law at the University of Groningen, where he graduated with a law degree in 1971 and married the following year. Aged 20 he joined the PvDA (Labour Party). After graduation, Cohen took up a research position at Leiden University, where he remained until 1981. He then commenced teaching at Maastricht University, becoming professor in 1983 and then rector magnificus in 1991.

In 1993, Cohen was appointed to serve in the third cabinet of Ruud Lubbers, the longest-serving Dutch prime minister (1982-1994) noted for his Thatcherite policies in an otherwise consensual political system. Having served as Deputy Minister for Education, Cohen returned to his academic post after one year, though remaining a member of the Dutch upper house (Eerste Kamer). In 1998 he was appointed to serve as the interim director of the liberal VRPO television station before resigning from the Eerste Kamer to serve in the third cabinet of Labour prime minister Wim Kok as Deputy Minister for Justice with responsibility for immigration. Here Cohen was responsible for overhauling the Netherlands’ immigration law, an area which remains contentious in Dutch politics today.

Cohen resigned from the cabinet at the end of 2000 and was appointed Mayor of Amsterdam in January 2001. Mayors of Dutch cities are appointed by the cabinet in the name of the monarch. One of Cohen’s first notable acts as mayor was to officiate over the first ever same-sex legal marriage, having piloted the legislation required only months earlier while in the Ministry of Justice.

In the Dutch general election of January 2003, following the collapse of the cabinet of Jan Peter Balkenende as a result of the formation of the anti-immigrant Pim Fortuyn List, Cohen became Labour’s candidate for prime minister after leader Wouter Bos’ refusal to serve in the cabinet. In the event, Balkenende narrowly clung on, so Cohen remained mayor.

In 2005, Cohen was named one of Time magazine’s ‘European Heroes’ for his stand on the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street by an Islamist in November 2004. Cohen led the city’s people in street protests, calling for unity and tolerance. Since the murder, which saw Cohen himself targeted by the assassin, the mayor has sought to bring together the capital’s immigrant communities to ensure dialogue against extremism, both by and directed at Muslim immigrants, in order to maintain its reputation for tolerance and liberal attitudes.

The city of Amsterdam is governed by the mayor (burgemeester), aldermen (wethouders, appointed by the council) and the municipal council (gemeenteraad). In the 2006 municipal elections, a coalition between the Labour Party and the GreenLeft was returned with 27 out of 45 seats. The city is further divided into 15 boroughs (stadsdelen), unlike other Dutch cities. The boroughs were created as part of a decentralisation initiative in the 1980s and carry out most local responsibilities, with the city retaining central oversight for infrastructure and cross-city issues. In 1995 the national government proposed the creation of a city province for Amsterdam, alongside the 12 historic provinces of the Netherlands, and while this was rejected by the city’s voters in a referendum, decentralisation has increased to the lower tier since then.

Cohen is married, with a son and a daughter.

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