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Actor, Politician, Green Activist
by Joseph Pedro

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Each morning, Klaus Bondam says goodbye to his husband and hops on his bike to work. He, like 55% of all Copen­hageners, coasts through this beautiful city in specially designed bike lanes. After a brisk ride, Bondam parks outside City Hall and gets ready for the day as Copenhagen’s Mayor for the Em­ployment and Integration Admin­istration or, as most people call him, the Bike Mayor.

Today, Bondam is a successful politico, but his road to office took its share of unexpected turns. Unlike his colleagues, Bondam’s resume lists customs agent and computer programmer rather than masters or law degrees. Regardless of profession, following his passions has been his constant focus.

At the start, passports and PCs were not part of his boyish fantasies while growing up on the island of Bornholm, Denmark. “I liked to act and perform at an early age,” he says. Chasing after his dream, Bondam enrolled in Odense Drama School in Copenhagen where he graduated in 1992. After a few years of working various gigs, Bondam’s determination and winning personality landed him a role in the award-winning movie Festen (The Celebration). Doors began to open after the film’s success. It wasn’t long until he was taking roles on both stage and screen. He gained acclaim for his appearances in the plays Shopping and Fucking and The Full Monty, but true success and celebrity came from his role as Niels Buckingam in the hit sitcom Langt Fra Las Vegas (Far From Las Vegas). For five seasons, he played an egregious news station CEO who over-shares with his staff about his bathroom habits and sexual fantasies. (A far cry from his actual polite and reserved demeanor.) The show was wildly popular in Denmark and launched Bondam further into the public eye.

The switch from drama to politics wasn’t a radical detour for Bondam. He was active in the student government throughout high school, and had been a member of Det Radikale Venstre (The Social Liberal Party) since the beginning of his acting career. He was also comfortable taking the lead. “I was the director of two theatres in Copenhagen before I became a politician, so I knew the political and administrational structures and knew how to take leadership,” he says. This experience and, to an extent, his celebrity fueled his first foray into Copenhagen’s government. He was elected to the City Council in 2001 and served as the Party Group Chairman until 2005.

Having test-driven both the acting and political routes, Bondam laughs at the similarities between the two. “You work late hours, drink a lot of coffee, and the media has a big say in whether you are successful or not.” Lattes aside, he still looks back to his earlier careers from his current leadership seat. "I often remind the officials in the municipality that I am not a scholar, and that many people aren’t, so the communication needs to be straightforward. I understand problems and solutions better when I talk to people in the city who are influenced by our decision, [rather] than by reading a memo."

This frankness and focus on the people has helped boost his popularity. It also helped give him the confidence to make an ambitious political move. Bondam ran for Lord Mayor in 2005. That year, the party’s city council representation grew from five to seven (to a total of 55 councilors), which did not give him the majority needed. Bondam was instead named the Mayor of the Technical and Environment Admin­istration area. Although unexpected, this twist of fate gave him the opportunity to create change in a field he was truly passionate about. Through his ambitious goals and strong leadership, Bondam has helped thrust Copenhagen to the forefront of green, city living.

From the start, Bondam has sweated and toiled to set clear, realistic goals. The Copenhagen 2015 is by far his most ambitious initiative. “By 2015 the goal is to become the world’s best city for cyclists, center for world climate politics, a green and blue capital, and the cleanest capital in Europe,” he says. This is no easy task, but Bondam has already jump started the project by taking small steps toward creating an “ecometropolis.”

In order to reach this carbon neutral goal, Bondam needed to quite literally “green” the city. He was inspired by New York City’s “pocket parks,” and headed successful campaigns to introduce them to his city. He invested in creating green roofs (buildings with gardens and solar energy on top), and of course, as the Bike Mayor, embraced the existing biking culture. “We learned that investing in bicycle infrastructure (building bicycle paths and bridges only for bicyclists and pedestrians, rebuilding traffic lights for the safety of cyclists, etc.) combined with campaigning for more cycling was the right combination. We didn’t tell people what to do or how to transport themselves, but we encouraged the many people who would already go by bike, to do so more often,” he says. Under Bondam the number of cyclists increased by over ten percent.

The capital’s development as a leader in sustainable, urban, eco-living was further confirmed when the 2009 Climate Change Conference selected Copen­hagen as its host city. “It enforced a bigger consciousness amongst the Danes, and it gave us the chance to show other cities and other nations that sustainability can go hand in hand with financial growth and a better quality of life.”

Cities can certainly follow Copen­hagen’s tracks when it comes to building a carbon neutral locale, but Bondam says making a change also comes down to the everyday person. “The most important thing is to think twice before you choose your mode of transportation, your daily habits in the supermarket, bathroom, etc.,” he states.

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I live in Copenhagen. Bondam is one of the problems. He's so unpopular, he allied with the most right wing party, just to stay in power. His bike policy is idiotic: making driving impossible, regardless of the effect on small business. He's a disgrace!
- Jake , Copenhagen, Denmark

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