How Oudkerk's career was destroyed

20th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

One of the striking aspects of the scandal that ended the career of Amsterdam Alderman Rob Oudkerk was that he brought it on himself by giving a naively frank interview to a journalist about his regular visits to ladies of the night and internet surfing of inappropriate sites.

Oudkerk was a politician with principles. Perhaps his principles are not universal, but he stuck to them through thick and thin. He describes himself, using a typical Dutch turn of phrase, as a "social democrat in heart, head and kidneys".

Principles

The now 49-year-old family doctor had joined the PvdA in 1993 and soon made his mark as a no-nonsence politician. After two terms (1994 to 2002) as an MP, he was appointed Alderman of Education and Social Affiars on Amsterdam's executive council.

He described himself as someone who has a total antipathy to "babble, endless balderdash and piles of paper work".

And even in 2002 when things were at there darkest and the rise of right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn seemed set to banish Labour to the opposition forever, Oudkerk remained convinced the PvdA was the party most committed to creating a safer, less crowded Amsterdam "where all good plans to make the city a better place would be carried out".

His straight-talking approach got him into trouble too, however, and eventually proved his undoing.

Back in March 2002, the PvdA turned in a dismal performance in the local elections, as the electorate turned away from the mainstream party in droves.

Even the PvdA's traditional stronghold on Amsterdam City Council took a battering.

Nerves of steel

Still, Oudkerk did not buckle. He knuckled down to his work, trying to find a way out of the deep financial pit the Amsterdam Social Affairs Department has dug itself into.

Later he was in the news again for speaking back to a traffic cop who pulled him over for not having a red light on the back of his bike. Oudkerk was reportedly not amused when the cop told him he had a duty to set an example for the people of Amsterdam.

The committed social democrat has also had to make political sacrifices.

 As alderman, he found himself demanding deep cuts in social programmes that had been initiated by his own party in previous years. But this selfless act has not won him much praise.

Speaking hours before Oudkerk threw in the towel, Liberal VVD council leader Eric van der Burg said one of the benefits of the Oudkerk affair was that the media was finally united about the alderman's "enormous successes with the social affairs portfolio".

Praise from the enemy? Not really. Van der Berg went on to say: "I mean that ironically because the situation is dire. The Social Affairs Department is absolutely not in order".

"But I also see another advantage in all this. He (Oudkerk) had to invest a portion of his free time in working for the council — 60 hours a week. As far as the VVD is concerned, he can now rid himself of the distraction of working," Van der Berg said.

While other opponents were not so sarcastic, few were willing to come forward and praise Oudkerk's record in what admittedly is a thankless and very difficult job.

Streetwalker

But it wasn't his administrative skills that led to his downfall; it was his darker principles — the belief that curb crawling and paying exploited and drug-addict women to sell their bodies was okay and nobody else's business. Unless he told them.

And furthermore, he felt that there was nothing wrong with frequenting the special streetwalking area on the Theemsweg as a punter, while at the same time joining in the council debate on whether to close the zone down.

As an alderman, he was well aware of the police claims that the zone had been taken over by foreign women, many of whom had been forced into prostitution by human traffickers.

The council had set up the experimental Tippelzone, or streetwalking area, in 1995 to give Dutch prostitutes, who were addicts, a relavtively safe place to work. But by 2000, a roaring illegal trade in guns and drugs had taken root there and the police started demanding action.

Eventually in November 2003, all parties on Amsterdam council, except the green-left Groenlinks, agreed the Theemsweg had to close. Oudkerk voted with the majority.

We now know that Mayor Cohen had given Oudkerk a dressing down after police spotted him on the Theemsweg in the "Autumn" of 2002. But his secret would have been safe from the media and the wider public, but for Oudkerk himself.

Journalist Heleen van Royen

Interview

Enter journalist Heleen van Royen. Though the Dutch media is too polite to say it, it seems Oudkerk couldn't distinguish between a journalist and a pretty lady.

Over drinks, he couldn't resist bragging about his regular 'night' excursions and how he surfed inappropriate sites on the computer he had been given by the city council for his work.

She also claimed in her subsequent column that Oudkerk mentioned he had snorted drugs at a New Year's Eve party. Oudkerk denies he said that.

The rest of his revelations he felt were private matters and he was annoyed that the journalist had published the conversation.

He later admitted that he had been very naïve.

Initially, the media focused on the intenet issue. Oudkerk had used a council computer to view the sites. Everyone agreed this was wrong, but most were happy enough that Mayor Cohen had told Oudkerk not to do it again.

It looked like Oudkerk would be in the clear completely because most politicians hesitated to condemn him for going to prostitutes. After all, Oudkerk was not the first, nor the last politician to seek out a lady of the night.

And the public didn't seem that put out either. An opinion poll conducted by Maurice de Hond for commercial broadcaster SBS 6 found that 63 percent did not believe it was a matter that required resignation.

Some 73 percent felt aldermen should be allowed to indulge themselves in private if they so wished. (Persumably, the same would apply to female officials).

But Oudkerk had done the unforgiveable — he frequented the lowest of the low in terms of red-light districts and paid for relations with the most vulnerable and exploited women.

Moreover, he was taking advantage of the services offered by the women there at a time when he and the rest of the council were deciding to close the Theemsweg due to the problems it had created.

He had to go.

Yet, Mayor Cohen still baulked at putting all the blame on Oudkerk's shoulders. The media had been at fault also, he said, for paying far too much attention to the issue.

Cohen said that up to last week when the allegations in relation to prostitutes and cocaine use emerged, he believed that Oudkerk would not have to step down.

But he changed his mind after it emerged last week that someone had tried to blackmail Oudkerk four years ago with photographs and a video tape of the then-MP visiting prostitutes in the Schilderswijk district in The Hague.

Oudkerk, he said, was a "colourful figure who drove the political debate" and achieved a lot, particularly in the field of education.

"The underlining relationships within the executive council were excellent. Therefore there are only losers. Politics, the council and the media: we are all the losers," Cohen said.

Representatives of the other parties also rushed to say some kind words about their departing colleague.

No one dared to ask though whether he could go back to work as a part-time doctor now that he had been unmasked as having something of the pervert about him.

Would female patients be happy to be examined by a man whose idea of relaxation is to inappropriate surf online sites?

And what of the women who used to ply their trade on the Theemsweg to feed their drug habits (and the criminal gangs who pimp them)?

Finally, is it now acceptable for ordinary citizen and married, father of two Rob Oudkerk to go in search of more exploited and addicted women to grafity his apetite?

20 January 2004

Subject: Dutch news + Oudkerk scandal

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