Turbulent week in Fredericia ends with mayor’s resignation

After infighting and accusations, Thomas Banke steps down as mayor, following pressure from former prime minister

There is an old saying in the US that ‘all politics is local’. But for residents of the eastern Jutland town of Fredericia, it might be more like ‘all local politics is crazy’. 

After a bizarre week that saw political infighting, an admission of drug use, and accusations of inappropriate use of council money, Fredericia’s mayor Thomas Banke (Venstre) stepped down today. 

In December, Banke went on an extended sick leave and was forced to admit that he was abusing morphine. It then emerged that Banke had used council funds to make private purchases and payments, and that the council’s financial records had discrepancies. This led to four members of the city council, all from Venstre, to give a vote of no confidence to Banke. When Banke refused to step down, the four members kicked Banke out of the party. 

In response to that, members of Venstre’s local board then in turn kicked the four council members out and brought Banke back into the party. 

But when the mess made the way to Venstre’s party head, former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the pressure on Banke proved too much. 

“Like everyone else, I have watched what has happened in Fredericia, and I am astonished,” Rasmussen said following a group meeting today, according to Politiken newspaper. “It’s a mess.”

Under Danish law, a mayor’s decision to leave office must be voluntary, and even a unanimous council cannot force a mayor out of office unless it has the backing of the Interior Ministry and the courts. But, according to media accounts, Rasmussen made it clear that a person cannot hold onto their position as mayor if they have lost the confidence of their council. With word of Rasmussen’s disapproval, Banke decided he had had enough. 

“The party boss’s word is always something that carries a lot of weight,” Banke said at a press conference announcing his resignation. “I have decided that it is damaging to my party. I am damaging my city, and no-one is served by that.”

Nana Hanghøj, a journalist who has covered Fredericia Council for twenty years, described the situation to Politiken as “total chaos”.

“We’ve had turbulent periods in the city before, including a mayor that died right after an election, but this here takes the cake,” Hanghøj said.