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GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Some politicians follow life after politics with a glitzy PR job at a global tech company. Others prefer to rack up gold-plated consultancies.
Ann-Sofie Hermansson drives a garbage truck.
On a recent weekday, the former mayor of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, pulled her work vehicle into a parking spot behind the headquarters of Renova, a publicly owned refuse collector. She picked her way across dirt-dappled walkways and through Renova’s warren-like offices to the cupboard where she hangs the truck’s keys. On the way she stopped to admire a new electric-driven garbage vehicle a couple of colleagues were road testing for locally-based Volvo Trucks.
“People sometimes ask me what the hell am I doing here, but for me this is a good solution,” she said. “I have to pay the rent.”
At a time when voter focus across Europe has become increasingly trained on the lucrative private-sector afterlives of top lawmakers, and whether new limits should be placed on them, Hermansson’s path offers a striking counterpoint.
After a successful career as a ministerial adviser in Sweden’s capital Stockholm, and later as the top official in Gothenburg, she was sidelined by her own Social Democrat colleagues after an unsuccessful 2018 election campaign.
But rather than follow a well-worn path into public relations — an option she said was on the table — or into an advisory role for one of Sweden’s many successful manufacturing companies, she decided to dust off a heavy-goods-vehicle driving license she had obtained on the advice of her father in her younger years.
When her notice period was up, Hermansson donned Renova’s high visibility orange overalls and took the wheel of one of the company’s trucks. She often collects compost, which Swedes deposit in brown wheelie bins outside their homes, and said locals regularly recognize her and stop her to talk politics on her rounds, which she enjoys.
“At least no one is upset with me,” she said. “That makes a nice change from working as a politician.”
In Sweden, as across much of Europe, well-paid, white-collar jobs in the private sector are the norm for many ex-lawmakers.
Hermansson is less the model than former Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and former Finance Minister Anders Borg, the duo who ran the country from 2006 until 2014, when they both took consultancy roles with U.S. banks. Borg also added a role at a Sweden-based investment company.
The revolving door between politics and business hasn’t caused much of a ruckus in Sweden, as it has in other countries — in the U.K. former Prime Minister David Cameron is in hot water for texting the British chancellor on behalf of a finance firm that employed him as an adviser. But Hermansson preferred to sidestep the whole debate.
“PR and that type of thing wasn’t for me,” she said.
While unusual, her post-political asceticism isn’t unique.
Uruguay’s former president José Mujica refused to accept a state pension when he left office, and his assets have been reported as consisting of one battered VW automobile.
Closer to home, Sweden’s former Education Minister Gustav Fridolin forewent a post-ministerial payoff he was entitled to and took a job teaching at an adult education college in central Stockholm. He found the job on the Swedish public employment service website, he said.
“Even though working in the government was very fulfilling on those occasions when we actually brought about change, I can’t really say I was happy every time I went into the department, but that is the feeling I get when I go into the school,” he said.
She’s for real
Ann-Sofie Hermansson was born on Tjörn, an island just north of Gothenburg, in 1964.
She joined Volvo when she was 19, was assigned a role transporting parts, then joined the local chapter of the metalworkers’ union and the Social Democrats’ youth wing and made a name for herself as an advocate of workers’ rights.
Hermansson held various jobs within the Swedish union movement before being recruited to Gothenburg to work with mayor Göran Johansson, a dominant figure within Swedish Social Democratic politics.
In January 2016, she herself became mayor, running a city of over half a million people, with a big say in everything from childcare to multi-million-euro infrastructure projects.
“It was a hectic time,” she said.
Hermansson said that in the main she has enjoyed her switch to Renova. She said the work is physically hard, but has the advantage of set hours and weekends without crisis meetings and constant phone calls.
During her first year helping keep Gothenburg clean, she has regularly updated a popular Twitter feed which often highlights the work of her colleagues.
A recent post introduced her followers to Jonathan, who keeps track of the keys for Renova and sings in a heavy metal band in his spare time.
The response to Hermansson’s career switch has been largely positive within Swedish media with incredulous reporters keen to track her progress.
At first there was a suspicion her move might be some kind of politically motivated performative act, but as the months have passed, the consensus has become that she is for real.
A recent editorial in the Swedish daily Expressen, which featured Hermansson and Fridolin, proclaimed: “Hats off to the ex-politicians who get real jobs.”
Hermansson said she plans to continue at Renova for the foreseeable future but didn’t rule a political comeback down the line — even if she doesn’t always have the energy to follow the latest party leaders’ debate on television after a day dragging bins full of compost across Gothenburg’s cobbled central streets.
“I often ache at the end of the day, but I enjoy my work and I sleep well at night, and that’s important,” she said.