Who is Mayor Kai Wegner and how will he change Berlin?
Berlin’s new black-red government has now signed its coalition agreement, with the House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus) electing Kai Wegner as the capital’s first CDU mayor in over 20 years. But who is Kai Wegner and what are his plans for Berlin?
Kai Wegner elected mayor of Berlin
In February, Berliners returned to the polls to end a 21-year stint of SPD wins in local office. A black doughnut of CDU wins ensconced central Berlin's Green voters, allowing the centre-right conservative party to declare their first winning result in the capital since 2001.
After months of negotiations, and an all-day voting session in the Abgeordnetenhaus which saw many SPD members withhold the votes Wegner required for a majority, resulting in a painstaking three-round vote, the CDU and SPD will now form a new Große Koalition (Grand Coalition). The CDU will replace the Left and Green parties that were included in the city’s previous coalition, which was led by SPD Mayor Franziska Giffey.
Wegner is now stepping into Giffey’s red slippers, holding a coalition agreement that not everyone is happy with. Joining ranks with the CDU has been a controversial decision for many in the SPD: in a piece published in TAZ last week, eight SPD activists condemned their party’s coalition plans.
“The leaders of the CDU stand for a policy of prevention that is not able to handle the big problems of the city,” wrote Peter Maas, head of the SPD young socialist wing Juso. Commenting on Wegner's failure to get elected after the first two rounds of Abgeordnetenhaus votes on Thursday, Green Party faction leader Werner Graf called the day a "disastrous start". "It's bad for Berlin because there is no stable majority in the next three and a half years - no matter how the third round of elections turns out," Graf told Berliner Morgenpost.
Who is Kai Wegner?
Kai Wegner was born in the western Berlin district of Spandau in 1972 to a shop sales worker and a builder. After leaving school in Spandau, Wegner joined the military and then trained to become an insurance salesman, his career before entering into politics in the early 2000s.
Over his political career, Wegner has served on CDU committees for Housing, Environment and Nuclear Safety, to name a few. From 2011 to 2016 he was secretary general for the CDU in Berlin, and since 2019 he has been the party’s chair in the German city.
Wegner lives in Spandau with his political scientist and former CDU-advisor wife, two children and a dog, a German conservative lifestyle somewhat mirrored in his extremely-car-driver-friendly policies proposed during the campaign.
What are Kai Wegner's political views?
In his own words, Wegner’s politics are much less conservative than they were when he first joined the CDU as a youngster. He was an outlier in his parliamentary group by voting in favour of Germany introducing same-sex marriage in 2017.
However, critics of the CDU have raised concerns over racist attitudes in the party, whose members, including Wegner himself, were admins and part of a Facebook group where extreme right material was published, according to TAZ. SPD and Green Party members were also part of the group.
Wegner names diverse cabinet for Berlin
Another area of criticism is the CDU's demand that the names of people arrested for setting off fireworks in Berlin this New Year be published. Wegner recently commented on the matter, “We have a problem of violence from the right, from the left, but also sometimes from people with a migration background,” adding, “Mehmet belongs to Berlin just like Michael. That’s good. Berlin is a diverse city.”
The new conservative mayor has created a cabinet with a diverse outward-looking makeup, with four east-German-born members, three people with migration backgrounds and more women than men. But what are the cabinet’s plans for the capital?
What are the new mayor’s policies for Berlin?
On Tuesday, Klaus Wowereit, former Berlin Mayor from 2001-2014 and master of coining zeitgeist-y mottos such as Berlin’s “poor, but sexy” charm, announced that the now cliched term was officially out.
According to Wowereit, Berlin is now “Schwarz, aber schillernd” (“Black, but shiny”). Just in time for the revamp, Wegner’s agenda for the city, which he has described as “economy-facing” but also “cosmopolitan and metropolitan” is about as shiny and black as it gets.
One of the Spandauer’s major campaign points was throwing out the public transport and cycle-friendly agenda championed by the former SPD-Green coalition and assuring drivers in Berlin that the city would remain theirs.
As part of this outlook, it’s likely that Berlin’s new A100 motorway will be expanded, this time with support from the SPD - though Wegner has said that the city “needs to involve Berliners in the decision."
In his campaign run the new mayor named the city’s housing crisis as a top priority for his party, “This is an emergency and the SPD, Greens and the Left Party are responsible”, said Wegner, whose party was in government for 57 of the 72 years of the Federal Republic of Germany's existence.
As a potential remedy, he has re-opened the Tempelhofer Feld can of worms, suggesting that building housing on the airfield could be back on the agenda, despite 64 percent of city residents voting against the policy in 2014.
In terms of Berliners' more recent vote to nationalise 240.000 houses and apartments owned by the Deutsche Wohnen & Co property companies, the future isn’t looking too bright either. Wegner has said he has “great doubts” that the courts would agree to move forward. With 80 percent of the CDU’s publicly-recorded donations coming from the real estate sector, the plan for nationalisation doesn’t exactly ring true with the party’s agenda.
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