When I first saw them I didn’t even react. It was some years ago and the fall rain was dark. He sat on the wet sidewalk in front of a downtown store with a mug in front of him. I’ve seen this before, it was familiar to me. Only, this wasn’t Seattle, this was Umeå.
The reason I didn’t react was the dark afternoon fall rain tricking me. It transferred me to Seattle where I was used to people in need on most every downtown corner, neighborhood grocery store and highway onramps. Once it was new to me, a scary uncomfortable picture for a small town Swede, but I became a Seattle citizen and learned how to handle this every day situation.
My mother had an aunt Rut. She was mean. There is no other way describing her in an honest way, she was simply mean. And the family let her have her way. No one ever confronted her when she spread her bad behavior and made people upset and sad, even scared. It was a normality and she got away with it. I have been thinking about aunt Rut this last week. For a reason.
Today panhandlers are a reality even in Umeå. They are mostly Romanies from Rumania and they come here to make a living. Their situation in Rumania is very difficult. Begging is the only way they can get a few pennies even in their home country, but people rather throw abusive language at them than money, they are spitted on and chased away. They rather make the long journey to a cold city way up in northern Europe to get a few dollars for sending back to their families. At least here they are not spitted on.
Until this week.
We don’t have the political system with mayors in Sweden. But every city has a top politician who is the public face and with quite a lot of power. In Umeå his name is Lennart Holmlund, and just to make it simple, let’s call him the mayor. This week the mayor of Umeå spitted on the Romani panhandlers, now a part of the Umeå picture.
On his blog (he is a very frequent blogger) Lennart Holmlund accused them for being a part of an organized business, shipped in to Umeå in BMW and Mercedes. People who looked disabled during their panhandling pass, miraculously rising up in the evening stealing high quality beef in the supermarkets. Information he had by hearsay. And there was more. Opinions you would only associate with racist parties. Lennart Holmlund is a Social Democrat.
As I said, the Umeå mayor is a frequent blogger. He has strong feelings against media and prefers to spread his word uninterrupted on his blog. And this is not the first time he is throwing up opinions making you wonder if the man is in his right mind.
What’s interesting though is that we are letting him. He is reelected time after time. And in the same time, he is kind of a joke. He is presenting himself as straight forward, impulsive (in a good way), speaking his mind up (in ways other politicians don’t have the guts to do), and he is building his politics on his daily strolls on the downtown square talking to people. Pretty much the same people every day is my guess. It’s like Mayor Ed Murray would act on a daily chat with the venders at Westlake Mall.
So, every now and then his vomits get public and we shake our heads and he makes the headlines in the news for a while, but hey it’s Lennart, what can we expect?!
And this week he threw up on the Romanies, sleeping in abandoned cars and elevators six hours south of the Polar Circle, eating what they can find or being given, and yet finding that better than staying in Rumania.
And I am thinking about my mother’s Aunt Rut. How her family let her spit out whatever mean thing that popped up in her head. Because that’s who she was. That’s Rut. Lennart Holmlund, the most powerful politician in Umeå, has a behavior that’s been normalized in our city, to the point that we are hardly noticing it.
This time though, he crossed a line. He went so far even the national media reacted. The Social Democrats in Umeå, in the county and on national level makes it very clear the party is not behind his statement. In this Lennart Holmlund is alone.
Is that a problem for him? Not at all. He stands by his blog posting, making no excuses and no apologies.
Aunt Rut was mean. I’m sure there were reasons for it, we are all carrying our luggage, but what came out of it was malevolence. Is Lennart Holmlund mean? No, I would say he most of the time knows exactly what he is doing. It’s politics, he does his thing and as long as he is not passing that line he gets away with bad headlines for a week or two and with being “such a character”.
Then why would he trespass at this point? I don’t know. But maybe because he is about to retire from office. Although we get the impression he is never thinking twice about all the absurdities coming out of his mouth, he might. Maybe this time he didn’t edit himself though. This is him. The election is coming up in September and he will not run for his current position again. I can’t help wonder about his legacy. Does he?