Longyearbyen losing top leaders


As Longyearbyen heads into choppy waters due to perhaps its worst economic crisis ever, it will need to find new leaders to guide the way.

Mayor Christin Kristoffersen, leader of the local ruling Labor Party, said this week she will return to her home in Tromsø after the municipal election in October and may consider running for Parliament two years from now. Geir Hekne, the local Conservative Party leader and deputy chairman of the council, also appears unlikely to seek reelection.

Hekne has stated previously “it might be healthy that someone else takes over” due to the time commitment required. He said it’s difficult for him to fulfill that commitment because of his job as the Longyearbyen Fire Department’s firemaster.

Kristoffersen announced her departure this week, saying she hasn’t been able to spend sufficient time with her family since the July 22, 2011, mass shooting at Utøya. One son, Viljar Hansson, suffered near-fatal injuries and another, Torje, was with his brother at the time.

She has worked on numerous projects as mayor, including seeking a new harbor and helping start a new college-level engineering program, and has spent the past few months lobbying the Norwegian government on behalf of Store Norske. The mining company is facing a long-term financial crisis that has already taken a heavy toll on Longyearbyen’s economy, but she said she believes new leaders will be able to guide the city through.

“I think we have done what we can do for the development of Svalbard,” she said. “The next four years will be another kind of work and another dynamic.”

Kristoffersen, who rose swiftly and finished fourth in the Labor Party’s rankings for the Troms region during the 2013 national election, said she is open to running for Parliament in 2017 if the regional party supports her.

“I will of course do that because its my party and I would like to contribute in any way I can,” she said. However, “it not’s directly related” to her decision not to run for reelection in Longyearbyen.