16 parties, including numerous immigrants and women, trans folks, people of colour and the disabled are running for Reykjavík City Hall. Yet you could be forgiven for not knowing this, given that the headlines about the municipal elections in Iceland’s capital have revolved around two native-born Icelandic men: current Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and the Reykjavík Independence Party’s leading candidate, Eyþór Laxdal Arnalds.
The emphasis is understandable, if simplifying: the Social Democrats and the Independence Party have been regularly switching places as the leading and second-place parties vying for control of City Hall, and by fairly wide margins over all other parties. So maybe we should take a better look at these contenders.
Background: Born in Reykjavík in 1964, Eyþór didn’t always have an eye on politics. In his very early years, he had an abiding interest in the cello, and was one of the founding members of Tappi Tíkarass and Todmobile. But his mind later turned towards business, getting his MBA from the University of Reykjavík.
Eyþór has been involved in numerous business ventures, some of them very successful. This includes co-founding the telecom Íslandssími hf. (later becoming Vodafone) and Becromal in Akureyri, and is now the director of Strokkur Energy, a renewable energy company.
Politics: Was a deputy Reykjavík city councilperson from 1998 to 2002, later leading the list for the Independence Party in Árborg, South Iceland, in 2006 and 2010, becoming the chair of the town council from 2010 to 2014.
The platform: Eyþór represents the platform of the Independence Party in Reykjavík. This means he wants the city to build some 2,000 apartments on average per year, including on Örfirisey, the very tip of the peninsula in Grandi, west Reykjavík – a site the Independence Party has long wanted to develop on. He seeks to improve the flow of traffic in Reykjavík by making the buses more timely, supporting more sustainable forms of transportation, and reducing “dangerous traffic lights” at intersections. He wants to improve the wages of playschool workers, to reduce air pollution in the city, and to have the streets cleaned regularly. But his most controversial position by far has been to promise to eliminate real estate taxes on residents over the age of 70—a measure that only the national government can actually promise.
What are his chances? Not too shabby, really. The Independence Party has long been the second-strongest force in Reykjavík politics, and there’s been talk that the party is overdue for a win. However, Eyþór is still up against a popular incumbent mayor, and the polling shows he has his work cut out for him.
Dagur B. Eggertsson
Background: Born in 1972 and raised in the Reykjavík suburbs of Árbær, his father was a veterinarian and his mother a biochemist, making it perhaps unsurprising that Dagur would himself pursue a career in medicine. He worked at different divisions of Landspítali hospital, the Ísafjörður health centre and then the Department of Microbiology at Landspítali before becoming a doctor at the E.R. of that very institution.
Politics: Dagur was first elected to Reykjavík City Council in 2002 as an independent member of the Reykjavík List. He was briefly mayor in October 2007 before Ólafur F. Magnússon of the Liberal Party pulled the rug out from under him. Undeterred, he continued to pursue a career in city politics, leading the Social Democrats when they formed a coalition with the Best Party from 2010 to 2014. That year, he led the Social Democrats again and won the mayoral title.
The platform: Dagur represents the platform of the Social Democrats in Reykjavík. The sweetest plum in their platform is The City Line (“Borgarlínan”), a public transport system that essentially treats buses like light rails: they run more often, have their own lanes for travelling, and the bus stops themselves are better constructed. Dagur has emphasised the building of thousands of new apartments in Reykjavík, some of them already under construction. Social Democrats, coming from a quasi-socialist tradition, also place a lot of emphasis on human rights and gender equality, but they also recognise the importance of reducing air pollution. They believe increased public transport and encouraging more foot and bicycle traffic will help in this regard.
What are his chances? Pretty good, actually. Dagur has been a popular mayor, he has a very familiar face in city politics, and neither he nor his party have been attached to any political scandals on the city level. However, as 16 parties in all being in the running attests, people are also looking for a change, so they could very well cast their votes in a way that reflects that.