Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg, is riding high these days: local opinion polls show 75 percent of Hamburgers happy with his work. If there were elections next summer, he would easily win an absolute majority for the center-left Social Democrats, or SPD.
There are of course elections next year, but they are at a federal level. There, the SPD is doing much worse, with poll ratings stuck in the low 20s, a terrible performance for a party once dominant across much of the country.
In a variety of coalitions, the Social Democrats currently govern nine of Germany’s 16 federal states. Among the nine SPD state premiers, the 58-year-old Mr. Scholz is the stand-out performer. His most spectacular success has probably been the rescue of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Mr. Scholz inherited a complete mess of a project, with building suspended and costs spiraling on the ambitious riverside concert hall. But he has steered the building to successful completion, with the spectacular structure now hailed as an architectural wonder and a new Hamburg symbol. Albeit one that cost 10 times the original estimate.
Construction of new housing has accelerated since Mr. Scholz took office in March 2011, responding to the city’s serious housing crisis. Mr. Scholz aims to have 10,000 new apartments built annually, 3,000 of them social housing. On a federal level, Mr. Scholz’s interventions have revealed him to be a shrewd pragmatist, able to cut deals with politicians from other parties, especially the center-right Christian Democrats, the SPD’s federal coalition partners.