Thomas Kochati: The Power Fighter |


Status: 05/12/2022 09:23 AM

As Minister of Justice, he has turned pale, but is now in an offensive position. Thomas Koshati has evolved into a power fighter – and now he wants to lead the NRW-SPD to power.

Written by Rainer Strevsky, WDR

“Kshati? I don’t know.” At the beginning of last year, half of North Rhine-Westphalia respondents shrugged their shoulders when asked if Thomas Koshati would be a good candidate in the state election. Since then, the opposition leader in the Dusseldorf state parliament has done a lot to improve his image in the country – and he has also shown a remarkable capacity for change. He even allows pictures of himself to be posed on election posters with Olaf Schultz. Side by side, as if nothing fits the two. Long ago it was unimaginable.

As the leader of the SPD’s parliamentary group, Kocati was also the leader of the opposition in the Dusseldorf state parliament for four years. And in doing so, he shares the fate of many of his colleagues: when it comes to propaganda, heads of government are always easier than leaders of the opposition. And if the head of government in North Rhine-Westphalia is lucky enough to play on the big stage at the Conference of Prime Ministers, it will be twice as difficult for an opposition leader beside him. He has only the junior stage of the state parliament.

Attack instead of self-defense

But Kuchaty knows how to use it. While he practiced self-defense in his time as Minister of Justice in North Rhine-Westphalia, he now clearly switched to offensive style. Prime Minister Hendrik Fust recently testified that he was only the “winner” of the Laschet government and not an innovator. He accused him, “We had all the opportunities. They didn’t take advantage of any of them.”

With his attacks on the state government, Kuchaty sometimes exudes a dirty terrier charm. He once described former Prime Minister Laschet as “light-footed” and Health Minister Karl Josef Lohmann even “with snot and arrogance”. The political opponent reacted as hoped, for example, he spoke of an “unfamiliar accusation” that Kochati should apologize – which translates to: as an opposition leader who wants to draw attention to himself, he did everything right.

Ruhr district child

Kuchaty is a child from the Ruhr region. In 1968 he was born in Essen into a family of railway workers. He grew up in a council apartment with a coal stove in Essen Purbeck, a not so charming part of town in the northwest of town. It is still rooted here today. He lived right next door in Schönebeck, where there are old mining settlements, and was a member of the board of directors of the mining colony there. His father took him to early SPD rallies. It seems that the political path has been charted.

At school, however, he went his own way. He became the first Kuchaty to finish his studies with a high school diploma. After that, he remained loyal to the Ruhr region and studied law at the Ruhr University in Bochum. As a licensed lawyer, the law firm “Kutschaty & Asch” opened in 1998 – in Essen, of course. But working as a lawyer was not enough for Koshati. I quickly realize: “At some point, law enforcement is no longer helpful, but I have to change the law so I can remedy something.”

Pale Minister of Justice

In 2010 he got his first chance to do so. Hannelore Craft appointed him as Minister of Justice in the red-green minority government. But during his seven years as a minister, Kuchati remained somewhat pale. Instead, the desolate state of many prisons in North Rhine-Westphalia was remembered. In 2012, a dangerous criminal managed to escape from the Bochum JVA by raising a dilapidated skylight. As a result, Kochati had to admit the failed construction of several prisons in the state parliament. Even then, sick NRW prisons were a topic over and over again.

The SPD in Essen, which he headed in 2016, was barely doing well. First, local SPD groups north of Essen resisted what they saw as an unfair distribution of refugees in the city. The leadership of the Social Democratic Party managed to prevent the protest march. Then SPD board member Guido Riel left the SPD after 26 years – and joined the AfD. Ironically, a former miner changed his camp in Essen, the former SPD stronghold. Real said out of frustration. Said the Social Democrats because he felt left out.

At the time, Essen’s SPD said that Koçati, as president, was reluctant to deal with the conflict – which, however, was seen as a contested pile of rubble. Under his leadership, the headlines did not leave. In 2016, Petra Haines, a member of the Bundestag in Essen, had to admit that she had falsified her biography. Among other things, Haines pretended to be a lawyer. She didn’t even have a high school diploma. Not many believed that lawyer Kochati would not have noticed this in years of close cooperation with Haines.

The 2017 state elections turned out to be a disaster for the SPD. Despite Koshati’s return to the state parliament as a directly elected member, his party suffered heavy losses in Essen and throughout the country. For the first time, the AfD has entered the state parliament. In the Kutschaty constituency, the AfD ranked third with 13.1%.

The NRW-SPD has postponed a necessary new start in terms of personnel by one year. Kochati used the time to position himself in the Federal Social Democratic Party: to abolish Hartz IV, to introduce a wealth tax and above all: against the new version of the Grand Alliance in Berlin. Kochati also drew attention to himself in NRW-SPD. When the parliamentary group leader was filled, he narrowly defeated Mark Herter, who was a favorite of the party’s establishment and brooding son of longtime parliamentary group leader Norbert Romer. Koshati took this as a signal against the “back room policy” of the North Rhine-Westphalia SPD and announced a new departure.

But a little later, when the question arose of who should become the new party chief in North Rhine-Westphalia, Kochati missed the opportunity to take this position as well. The only candidate was the anonymous member of the Bundestag Sebastian Hartmann.

Kuchaty learns the power struggle

But the new dual leadership of party and faction leaders did not get along. Hartmann was rarely observed in public. Anyone who wants to know what the SPD wants in North Rhine-Westphalia would have been better off asking the leader of the parliamentary group Kochati. Finally, there was an open power struggle between Kochati and Hartmann, a struggle that Hartmann could not win. His supporters were at a distance in the parliamentary group in Berlin, while Koshati had secured his base in North Rhine-Westphalia.

In addition, there was a disaster in the local elections in the fall of 2020, which put Head of State Hartmann under additional pressure. Meanwhile, Kuchaty has made a name for himself during the Corona pandemic with attacks against the state government.

The lackluster ex-minister of justice has evolved into the leader of an aggressive faction that has now seized all power in the party. Shortly before the crucial party convention in the spring of 2021, Hartmann withdrew his candidacy for state president, worried and disappointed, and the path was clear for Koshati. At the Digital Party Conference, he was elected party leader with 90.5 percent of the vote.

First against, then for Schultz

But the new state president soon faced new challenges. Because without a strong NRW-SPD, the next federal election in the fall of 2021 could not be won. Kutschaty had to lead his state assembly out of the low-ballot ballot — which doesn’t make things any easier — backed Chancellor candidate Olaf Schultz.

Because as a vocal opponent of the Grand Alliance in Berlin, Kocati spoke out clearly against Vice-Chancellor Grocco Schulz when he wanted to be elected to the presidency of the SPD. But Kuschaty also knew that a majority in the federal government could only be achieved with a strong NRW SPD – Scholz or not. His fresh support for Schultz in the federal election campaign has finally paid off: the SPD was once again the strongest force in the state of New South Wales with 29.1 per cent. In the federal government, she was directly ahead of the CDU, and Schultz became chancellor.

Being close to Schulz also carries risks

In the NRW state campaign, Schulze retaliated by supporting Kuchaty. He, in turn, is now also announced by his direct line to Berlin. The message they both convey is clear: There is no match between Schulz and Koshati.

However, there are also risks in this tight Scholz cycle. A few days ago, the SPD in Schleswig-Holstein felt the pain of the fact that the tailwind is not only coming from Berlin at the moment. Is the advisor hurting or helping the state’s election campaign? Kuschaty firmly believes in the latter: “The chancellor has a lot of support from the population, especially for his sad march in the Ukraine crisis. This also gives us impetus,” he asserted a few days before the North Rhine-Westphalia elections.

Kutschaty also learned from the federal election campaign and is now also focusing on some of the topics at NRW: housing, climate-friendly jobs, health – and education. Because Kuschaty also knows that elections in North Rhine-Westphalia were won with school politics in particular. Or lose, like last time in 2017.

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