Eberhard van der Laan: Very involved, well loved mayor of Amsterdam

Eberhard van der Laan
Mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan. ()

After a long battle with cancer, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan passed away on Thursday. He leaves behind a wife and five children. In Amsterdam Van der Laan will be remembered as a very involved and very well loved mayor of the Dutch capital. 

Eberhard van der Laan was born on June 28th, 1955 in Leiden, according to the statement released by the Amsterdam municipality. He studied law at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and in 1992 he co-founded the law firm Kennedy Van der Laan. He parted ways with the law firm when he was asked to replace a reitred colleague as Minister of Housing, Neighborhoods and Integration in 2008. Between 1990 and 1998 Van der laan was also in Amsterdam's city council, from 1993 as the faction leader for the PvdA in the city.

Van der Laan was appointed mayor of Amsterdam in July 2010. He started his second term last year. "As mayor he combined humanity with action", the municipality writes. In addition to being responsible for the portflios of General Affairs, Public Order and Security, Regulation and Enforcement, Communications and Legal Affairs, Van der Laan also worked hard to make life easier for all Amsterdammers. For example, he initiatied the Top600 approach to address violent re-offenders, and the Harassment Approach to stop intimidation in the living environment. "He found that Amsterdam must be a responsible capital city."

The Amsterdam mayor was very involved in every problem that faced the city, from the very start of his first term as mayor. Only a few months after he took office, he was faced with a low point. In the winter of 2010 a case come to light involving dozens of children being sexually abused at child care facility. Van der Laan personally visited each involved parent, to inform them what was going on, according to RTL Nieuws. That gained him much respect from Amsterdam residents and set the tone for his personal commitment to the city.

That commitment never wavered in his seven years as Amsterdam mayor. When protesting students occupied the University of Amsterdam's Maagdenhuis in 2015, Van der Laan paid them a visit to discuss their concerns. And earlier this year, he personally invited victims of anti-LGBT violence in the city to Amsterdam's Pride Parade

In 2013 Van der Laan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He beat the disease, but in January of this year the cancer was back, this time in his lungs. He informed Amsterdam residents about his diagnoses in a letter, saying that he will still be their mayor for a while. Amsterdam residents responded with dismay. A video was made in which a number of city residents made promises to Van der Laan about how they will take care of his and their city. 

In July, Van der Laan gave his first interview after his diagnosis on Zomergasten. In that interview he was more emotional about Amsterdam than his cancer, and repeated that he will still be mayor for a while. Nearly a million people watched the interview. 

In September Van der Laan and King Willem-Alexander paid a working visit to the Jordaan in Amsterdam. During that visit it was clearly visible how the cancer had weakened Van der Laan. One photo shows the King offering a supporting arm to the ill Mayor.

On September 18th, Van der Laan stepped down as mayor, after his doctors told him that there were no more treatment options available. He wrote a letter to Amsterdammers to say his goodbyes. "Look after our city and each other", he wrote. His resignation was met with sorrow. A day later, thousands of people gathered in front of his home on Herengracht, to give him a standing ovation and show him support. His wife and children came outside to thank the people, saying that Van der Laan would have loved to stand there himself, but was too ill to come outside. One photographer managed to snap a picture of him watching through the window.