Six months as mayor: Lasse still looks forward to going to work
It’s a typical Danish rainy day when the representative from MyAalborg meets Aalborg’s new mayor on the waterfront.
While the former has shown up without an umbrella or rain jacket, the mayor arrives on his electric bike in rain gear from head to toe and with a big smile.
Even at first glance, the contrast to the somewhat stiff politicians in the Danish Parliament couldn’t be greater, but if you’re familiar with Lasse Frimand Jensen from his many years on the city council, it’s not surprising.
Aalborg’s new mayor is known for having his feet firmly planted on Aalborg’s sidewalks, and I can feel it on the short stretch from the harbor to a coffee shop in Bredegade, where we sit for today’s interview.
In a short time, he is stopped by the first citizen, with whom he exchanges polite remarks.
It turns out to be an activist fighting against the third Limfjord crossing over Egholm, in direct opposition to the social democratic mayor when they meet at citizen and council meetings.
On the street, there is room for smiles and decency from both sides, which is not a given in strongly debated political issues.
We retreat to the café and sit with our respective cappuccinos – and from my side, a good deal of curiosity about what the interview is about: Lasse Frimand’s first six months as mayor.
Bringing brain and heart into the job
It is impossible to talk about Lasse Frimand Jensen’s mayoralty without touching on the whole reason he took over the position in the middle of a term.
If we turn the clock back to spring 2023, it came as a big shock to most that Thomas Kastrup Larsen chose to step down as mayor two years before the next municipal election.
“A short time later, people started talking about who should take over. Some party colleagues contacted me and said they thought it should be me. The media also immediately asked if I were interested.
I needed to talk to my wife and family to test with them if they thought it was a good idea,” Lasse says about the hectic period.
Fortunately, the family was on board, and Lasse could throw his full commitment into fulfilling what was a huge dream.
“It’s the dream job to become mayor for everyone who goes into local politics. And especially for me, who loves Aalborg and was born and raised here,” he says, emphasizing that it’s not enough to have a dream; you have to have the brain and the heart to do it right.
If you were not familiar with Lasse before he got the mayoral chain around his neck – as the youngest in Aalborg’s history, mind you – we want to dedicate a few lines to his previous career.
The North Jutland native is 37 years old and has been involved in local politics for 10 years. Before becoming mayor, he served on the city council and was a project coordinator at the International House North Denmark.
And he is actually the third in the family’s history to become mayor. His father, Frank Jensen, is a former mayor of Copenhagen, and his grandfather, Kjeld Jensen, was mayor of Støvring.
During his time on the city council, Lasse worked particularly to strengthen Aalborg’s position as an educational city in Denmark, and his heart also beat for the international students he had daily contact with through the International House North Denmark.
When he reflects on his many years on the city council, he doesn’t feel he left any loose ends before moving on.
“Some of the issues I ran on, I worked a lot on, and I think it’s gone the right way. So the time was right to move on.”
The big challenge
One doesn’t need much imagination to imagine that being mayor is a busy job, and Lasse also notes that he has been “insanely busy” in recent months.
He had a baptism of fire with the Danish Championship Week in June, followed by the big July 4th celebrations in Aalborg and Rebild just around the corner.
After the summer, it was straight into the start of the school year, where thousands of students started at Aalborg University, UCN University College, and vocational schools.
“I can easily remember my first day at university. I don’t feel like it was that long ago, but it is when I look back,” he admits, laughing.
In the fall came what Lasse calls “the big challenge as mayor”: the budget agreement in September.
“Yes, then we landed the budget agreement, which received a lot of attention. There is actually very strong support for the budget agreement we have reached, even though it politically divided opinions.
But in the population, there has been an understanding of the choices we have made. If we hadn’t raised taxes as we did, it would have looked much worse for the welfare that we all love, and it would have hit socially unfairly.
It was the weakest in Aalborg who would have been hardest hit by what was on the table. The fact that an ordinary Aalborg resident has to pay 60 kroner more per month means that we can support a lot of people,” he explains in a more serious tone, emphasizing the seriousness of the task.
It was the biggest challenge in his time as mayor, and the way he solved it showed that he is not afraid to go in different directions than his predecessors. With the tax hike, it is the first time in 32 years that the municipal tax has increased in Aalborg municipality.
Now he is ready to look ahead – and ready to talk about how he wants to develop and leave his mark on Aalborg in the future.
He highlights that the feeling of security is a fundamental principle for having a good life, and therefore, he will fight to make the city even safer.
“There have been some tragic deaths in nightlife with Mia and Oliver’s deaths. My children are not at the age where they go out, but feeling secure as a parent sending your children into the city weighs a lot for me.
When I have had ministers visiting, I also focus on the work we do with Safe Aalborg, where we collaborate closely with Midtbysjakket, North Jutland Police, and Safe House,” he points out.
The importance is also emphasized by the fact that under the budget agreement, municipal support funds were found for Safe House, and the savings that were supposed to hit Midtbysjakket were removed.
The calm to do the right thing
Whether it’s about deaths in nightlife, potential cuts in vulnerable areas like disability and elderly care, or the closure of schools and institutions, it’s a huge responsibility that rests on a mayor’s shoulders.
With his new title, Lasse is responsible for the well-being of over a hundred thousand people, and while some of us shudder at the mere thought, the young politician takes on the responsibilities with calm dignity.
And he still looks forward to going to work every day.
“It’s an incredibly cool job, and I’ve figured out what is most important. Many people ask me about it: What is the most important thing as mayor?
I would say that the most important thing is to have an overview and to be calm. Many cases come up that try to push you, give you headwinds, or make you uncertain.
But having the calm to choose the right thing and do the right thing, those are two qualities I have focused a lot on in the beginning. And I think it’s gone well, so I’m really happy,” he says, leaning back in the soft café seat with the coffee cup.
Lasse certainly has a calm temperament, but the passion is evident when he talks about things he cares about – whether it’s his favorite teams Liverpool FC and AaB or his love for Aalborg municipality.
Asked about where the inner calm comes from, he takes a moment to think before answering:
“I think I have an OK inner compass, which also allows me to make decisions fairly quickly. I have great confidence in that.
And then I have some incredibly talented people around me. I have a super experienced and skilled municipal director who is also very calm. I highly appreciate him.
In general, at the mayor’s office, there are insanely talented and truly professional people. I feel that they make me better, and I also think I contribute to making them better.”
A big family man
The story of Lasse Frimand Jensen is a story of a young Aalborg native who from an early age has wanted to make a difference for others and has found the means to do so in politics.
However, you can’t paint a portrait of him without talking about the family man Lasse.
When he talks about how big and wild an experience it was to be elected mayor, he is quick to interject that it still ranks lower than the birth of his three children and his wedding to his wife, Kristine.
When I ask him to share his best tips for the city, they quite naturally become very family-oriented.
“I think there are a lot of ‘best-kept secrets’ in the municipality, and I must admit that many things have a family appeal,” he says somewhat apologetically.
With children aged 6, 8, and 11, it also makes sense that things need to happen during the week, and here Lasse highlights favorite places like Grønærtebyen in Nørresundby, Aalborg Streetfood, the bike playground Cykleren (also in Nørresundby), and the public pools in Skansen and Gigantium.
“If I have rare free time, I also like to go to a pub or bar with my friends. It’s really cozy.
One of my favorite bars is John Bull, but I think all the places have their own charm and history. I hope we never lose those places because they are part of Aalborg’s DNA,” he notes.
Opinions about what Aalborg’s DNA is in 2024 are divided, and there will be those who disagree with Lasse on how Aalborg should develop. However, there is no doubt that our new mayor wants the best for the city.
As we leave the café and are about to say goodbye, the rain is still pouring down, but it’s not something that dampens the mayor’s mood, and as he greets another citizen in the public space, it’s with just as big a smile as always.