Saying goodbye won’t be easy for her. Because she doesn’t have a “functional relationship” with the Munich SPD, as Claudia Thousand says, but feels a “deep connection”. Nevertheless, she would also be grateful if she could devote her full energy to her task in Berlin over the next four years. There is a lot to do with her topics of building and living, “a few substantive knocks,” as she says. For more than seven years, the 57-year-old has done the balancing act: between the capital, where she is a member of the Bundestag, and the Munich SPD, which she has chaired since the end of 2014.
This meant, for example, that she had to apologize for her national group’s meeting every Monday. Because the assembly was dedicated to the party in Munich, where the board of directors met at the same time. She always flew to Berlin on Tuesdays. Basically, it was two full-time jobs, says thousands. “It was physically demanding.” That should now be over, at the city party conference of the SPD next weekend she wants to give up the office. It was seven tough years, certainly not just physically.
When Thousand took over the presidency, the SPD had lost massive support in the local elections in March 2014 and was just able to keep the post of mayor with the new candidate Dieter Reiter. The party had fallen to 30.8 percent, from 39.8 percent in 2008. The days of the SPD as a “Munich party” were apparently over, according to the analysis. In July, the then chairman, Hans-Ulrich Pfaffmann, resigned. At that time, the Munich SPD set out on a search for its identity, a search that would become a constant in the years that followed. “I think I had a particularly difficult time,” says Millennium. The nationwide crisis of the SPD, the many changes in leadership, the question of a new grand coalition as a crucial test after the 2017 federal elections, all of this also had an impact in the state capital.
Thousand himself only came third in the first votes
Thousand was supposed to lead the SPD into a new future as a beacon of hope, but election after election it went downhill. The low point: the 2018 state elections, in which the SPD in Munich fell to 12.8 percent, from 32.1 percent in 2013. Thousands also see it as their merit that the Munich SPD nevertheless stayed together. “I think the party is doing better,” she says. With her team, she managed “that we didn’t argue bitterly, that no camps formed, that there weren’t constant threats of resignations.”
A really conciliatory farewell was still denied to thousands. The SPD emerged as the nationwide winner from the federal elections last September. In Munich, however, this did not manifest itself, there it was again only the third strongest force. She herself was able to keep her mandate for the east of Munich via the state list as in 2017, but fell back to third place in the first vote result, behind Vanessa Rashid from the Greens, who is largely unknown to the public.
“People with fresh momentum, fresh ideas and fresh energy” are now needed for the leadership of the Munich SPD, she says. Two men are applying for their successor: ex-Juso boss and city councilor Christian Köning and parliamentary group leader Christian Vorländer. The big question remains the same as it was after the 2014 local elections: How can the SPD get more people excited about their politics again?
In her seven years as head of the SPD in Munich, Claudia Thousand did not find an answer that was reflected in the voters. After every defeat, she and her board promised a tough and honest review that basically sounded like the relentless analysis that cost her predecessor Pfaffmann the office after the 2014 local elections. More profile, more joy in discussion and more closeness to the people, these were the main demands of the soul-searching at the time. The current co-head of the Bavarian SPD and long-standing deputy in the city, Florian von Brunn, sees two starting points at the beginning of 2022: the SPD must position itself more clearly in public and engage in more dialogue with the city society. Not much has changed.
The party also likes to point to the Hartz IV resolutions under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the incomprehensible gap between the internal view of one’s own merits and the behavior of the voters, which is increasingly perceived as ungrateful: The SPD has it With one exception, Munich has ruled since the Second World War, they say. The city is doing well socially, economically too, and it is also safe. Why don’t the people of Munich vote for the party that actually invented the exemplary old people’s and service centers? Thousand could not or did not want to exorcise her party friends from thinking backwards. At least not in time for the recent elections.
Her deputy threw down the list due to a dispute
Whether she actually managed to get the Social Democrats to fight less among themselves is debatable. Last year, thousands of deputies threw out Roland Fischer because the Munich board of directors had been presented by a party colleague from their own city association when ranking the candidates for the Bundestag for the list in Upper Bavaria. Sebastian Roloff had chased away the safe place on the list from party colleague Florian Post, against the express decision of Thousand and her colleagues on the board. Post then specifically campaigned past the SPD in the north of Munich.
In September 2019, just six months before the most recent local elections, the then parliamentary group leader Alexander Reissl duped the Munich SPD in a way that was not thought possible: he gave up his post and defected to the CSU, of all people. This was preceded by a lengthy period of dispute and frustration in the SPD parliamentary group, which no longer wanted to submit to Reissl’s absolute claim to leadership and his conservative line. Since March 2020, the SPD has had to endure the humiliation of only being able to co-govern as a junior partner of the Greens. Since then, Christian Müller and Anne Hübner have led the parliamentary group, and the first year of the new city government was plagued by many personal differences with the Greens.
Claudia Thousand has largely stayed out of the work of the parliamentary group, at least to the outside world. “I’m leaving the town hall in the town hall,” she said, for example, when asked about the atmospheric disagreements between the Greens and the SPD in the city council last year. She saw her office primarily as a “management task,” she says: holding the party together, organizing it, and managing it. Conversely, being based in Munich has been of enormous use to her in her focus in the Bundestag. The planning expert brought many ideas for building and living with her from Munich. What have you enjoyed the most over the years? “I’ve always enjoyed going to the local clubs,” she says, “that made me happy and gave me strength.” She had “missed terribly” from this community experience in the past two years of the pandemic.
Some people blamed her for being able to keep in touch with the many branches and officials in the party. Too much management in the back room, too little offensive to the outside, it was said. But she successfully initiated the long overdue generational change in the party, which she now wants to promote with her withdrawal, as she calculates herself. It is estimated that two out of three chairmen of the local groups are under 40. After a veritable wave of people joining the party due to the Schulz effect at the beginning of 2017, there was another boost after the last federal election. Up to a third of party members have joined in recent years. The town hall fraction has also shown a younger and fresher face since the last local elections, to which Mayor Reiter has also contributed a good deal with his preferred candidates for the town council list.
The outgoing chair never wanted to be the “lead dancer”.
The future chairman has big tasks ahead of him: On the one hand, says thousands, it is about “collecting” the members again after two years of the pandemic. The SPD lives from social issues, from encounters and exchange. If everything only takes place online or by phone, that is not good for cohesion. But the organization of the party must also be adapted to the times. With more than 40 local groups in Munich, the SPD is “overstructured”. Likewise, the new board must think about the professionalization and efficiency of communication. The people who have three hours in the evening for voluntary party work no longer exist.
The SPD is not in sight of money to pay its chairman, as the Greens recently introduced. Thousand’s approach, not to lead the party alone and to distribute the tasks, will therefore also be necessary in the future. She never wanted to be the “lead dancer” and always wanted to do the work in a team, says the outgoing chairwoman. The nice thing about the party is the community, “developing visionary ideas” together with like-minded people. She will remain connected to the valued party life, but in the future she will concentrate on the Bundestag when it comes to content-related work.