Wellington Scoop

Andy vs Justin: Part One

RNZ photo

by Ian Apperley
As the Wellington election gets down to the wire, let’s face it, most of the voting will be done and dusted the night that election packs arrive in mailboxes. The campaign trail is getting a little tense and weird. I see quite a lot of gritted teeth, strange outbursts on social media, hyper-sensitivity to issues (did you see how fast Simon Woolf ran after that Botanic Garden naming misstep?), and stress.

Time is running out, voting papers hit homes next week, and candidates are scrambling to sell themselves. The race for mayor is always the most interesting, with candidates having a punishing timetable of meetings and debates along with endless “surveys” from lobby groups keen to paint candidates into one corner or other.

Justin Lester and Andy Foster are in what I think is a very tight race for the Wellington mayoralty. Both have a good chance at winning, with Justin likely just running on enough political capital to sneak over the line first, just like a race car running that last lap on fumes.

But it’s not over by a long shot, and there is a real chance that Andy could push Justin out. Especially on the back of the fear from a lot of Wellingtonians that economic conditions are softening, while rates are going through the ceiling and money is being spent on “vanity” projects.

The problem with being the incumbent in a mayoral race is that your opponents can attack you on your past failures, successes are reset to zero, and the judgement is harsh. Except that isn’t happening on the campaign trail, because as Kiwis, we don’t do conflict. But. In the background, we think it.

And the city is thinking about it. It does feel a bit like the last three years have been tougher than usual. People believe that we have regressed on several areas, including the CBD as a liveable option along with a lack of investment in suburban centres. Traffic is now a daily nightmare for thousands of Wellingtonians while the public transport system is effectively on life support.

There is economic uncertainty, and we know that the city suffers a minor downturn in a general election year (next year) as government looks to be seen to be tightening the belt. Couple that with the feeling that the future of the city feels a little uncertain with a distinct inability to make any plans, LGWM a case in point, making residents uneasy.

Into this situation come Justin and Andy, both promising they will solve problems and make things better.

When he launched his mayoral campaign at the Wharewaka, Justin outlined his Council’s achievements:

“When I was elected Mayor three years ago the Councillor relationships were considered toxic and many people felt the city lacked a clear plan. Over the last two years Wellington has been recognised as the World’s Most Liveable City and this council has delivered our entire triennium programme”

He announced three major policy pieces, which at the time raised a few eyebrows given their brevity. They covered transport with the removal of private vehicles from the Golden Mile (not pedestrianisation of the Golden Mile as some think), tweaking traffic with a range of measures, and bringing in a “Welcome Home” package to help integrate refugees.

Since then, there hasn’t been much in the way of policy and Justin has been running a minefield, with opponents and mainstream media trying to pull him into hot areas like Shelly Bay, LGWM, and the mysterious Julie Ann-Genter letter, which has now reached an almost Holy Grail status level amongst political pundits.

When Andy Foster launched his campaign he said he was aiming to restore vision, energy and progress.

“I’ve never had so many people say they want a change, and ask me to run for Mayor. They are very unhappy about what’s been done, about what has not been done, and about the way things have been done. People love our City very deeply and are proud of the way it has developed into one of the best cities in the world to live in, but there is now a widespread view that we are losing our way, and I want to put that right.”

There were some notable statements on what Andy wanted to see done. The Green Belt network to be completed, a heritage park established on Miramar peninsula (already underway), parks in the central city, a potential rollback to free parking on weekends, fixing civic square, a damning statement on LGWM, resurrecting the airport flyer, and taking a knife to expenditure to keep rates increases down.

The policy positions are quite different, for the most part.

Justin could be described as “more of the same” with an eye on overall progress, and that Labour focus coming through on people care. He’ll be keen to keep LGWM rolling – getting it started would be a win – and sticking to the Long Term Plan aspirations. In other words, finishing what his Council has started in the past triennium.

Andy, on the other hand, is going back to a highly city-centric view and slightly old school approach, and almost patriotic view of the city. More parks in the CBD, a focus on the environment (as well as Climate Change), traffic planning that includes all modes of transport, fiscal responsibility (bordering on austerity), and fixing the heart of the city.

It’s a subtle difference, but a difference all the same.

Then the accusations started flying. Justin was a Labour Party stooge who was being told what to do by his shadowy masters, including the Greens. Social media attack dogs spent hour after hour trying to throw him into the whirling blades of an out of control LGWM controversy.

Similarly, social media attackers went after Andy Foster, linking him to the New Zealand First Party, hammering him for being backed by Peter Jackson (they went after Peter Jackson as well), and cherry-picking perceived failures over his decades’ long career.

Both men escaped unscathed. In my opinion. Wellingtonians are pretty good at ignoring political attacks on politicians, preferring to sit back, wait for the dust to settle, and see what truth comes out of a fight.

In short, a vote for Justin is more of the same, following the plan, granted with a few tweaks, while a vote for Andy is a change.

In my second article, we look at both candidates in a (further) subjective light.

First published on Inside Wellington.


  1. TrevorH, 20. September 2019, 7:37

    More of the same won’t cut it. Wellington has lived through a lost decade under Wade-Brown and Lester. In fact it has gone backwards. We need new civic leadership. Voting for anyone sporting the colours of a national political party is an own goal for Wellingtonians. The first allegiance of party-sponsored candidates is to the party, not the city which many use as a stepping stone to further their own party careers.

  2. Hel, 20. September 2019, 9:22

    Thanks Ian and enjoy your coverage. Question for you, if you view Foster as a vote for change, how do you reconcile this with him having been a Councillor for a seeming eternity? The inference being why has Foster been unable to deliver “change” through his time on Council and does that suggest an inability to muster support to advance change. As you know the Mayor has a single vote and a key challenge is mustering a disparate array of Councillors, and let’s not forget an over empowered and somewhat lightweight executive, to get behind your plans. Interested whether you have any views around the candidates’ ability to get the necessary support and deliver their agendas.

  3. Ian Apperley, 20. September 2019, 11:28

    Hi Hel, It’s a good question. 🙂
    By “change” I think that Andy is moving away from the LTP as it stands, that Justin is still championing. Priorities would be different with different promises.

    Agreed re the ability to make change happen. IF Andy gets in AND he gets a set of like-minded individuals in with a majority, then the ability to make that change is higher. However, as we know, that is unlikely to happen in a city that is traditionally Red / Green, so IF Andy got in THEN making changes that don’t fit with their policies and world view would be impossible.

    Lot’s of “ifs” I know. 🙂

  4. Donald T., 20. September 2019, 12:24

    Well said Trevor – it’s a pity you are not standing as I might have bothered voting. Can’t see myself bothering for the same-old same-old let’s keep Wellington stuck in traffic and earthquake stickered to death.

  5. Don M, 20. September 2019, 13:19

    Trevor H is spot on. New civic leadership is needed now, as the mayor is more than just one vote. The city is fast becoming an overly expensive politically correct shambles. Rates are going through the roof, vanity projects abound, E-scooters and cyclists are taking over the footpaths in a half-baked quest to make the city more “vital”. Pedestrians are third class citizens, and their legitimate interests are disregarded by the decision-makers. Nothing is being thought through properly, and it’s time for some more mature leadership.

  6. Leviathan, 20. September 2019, 15:04

    Hel, not really true. Of all the Councilors on WCC, Andy Foster is one of the few who actually gets things done. He seems to really engage with the public through forums such as Wellington.Scoop and Stuff, as well as The Eye of the Fish. Other Councilors, such as Wolf, Marsh, Free, Lee, Morison (some time ago, but he was the worst) just basically appear to do bugger all community engagement and action, apart from picking up a pay check.

  7. Concerned Wellingtonian, 20. September 2019, 18:05

    This excellent analysis was done before the voting papers went out.
    Labour has had a decisive influence on the “random” draw. Lester is top of the list for the mayoralty and Ponter is top of the list for GWRC (and another Labour candidate is third for something else).
    These “lucky” draws negate all the analysis done above. The odds against such favourable draws are nearly 100 to one. Most regrettable if not suspect.

  8. Katy, 20. September 2019, 18:10

    Wasn’t it Andy who sat on the fence over the flyover thereby costing us multi-millions in lawyers etc?

  9. Stephen Todd, 20. September 2019, 18:51

    @Concerned Wellingtonian. Goodness me, CW, what is the matter with you? You have it quite wrong. Regulation 31(5) of the Local Electoral Regulations 2001, states—

    “*random order* means an arrangement where the order of the names of the candidates is determined randomly or nearly randomly for each voting document by, for example, the process used to print each voting document.”

    NB, for *each* voting document. For example, on my voting documents, Justin Lester is the sixth candidate on the list of mayoral candidates (Andy Foster is No. 1), and Daran Ponter is at No. 9 on the Regional Council list (John Klaphake is at No. 1).

    To be absolutely clear, every voting document has a totally different random order of candidates’ names. The “analysis done above” remains completely valid. You can relax; there is nothing “suspect” going on here.

  10. Henry Filth, 21. September 2019, 0:43

    Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. You cant have a local body election without mentioning the drains. Which of these two hopefuls is most likely to make the drains run on time.

  11. Concerned Wellingtonian, 21. September 2019, 6:51

    Stephen, thank you, you are quite right. I have now seen other ballot papers and realise that the awful discrimination towards the Lester/Ponter slate has applied only to me.
    Let me reassure everybody that I will not be ‘voting from the top’ and that the ploy is wasted in my particular case.
    I have just been unlucky with the odds of 100 to one.

  12. Stephen Todd, 21. September 2019, 10:57

    You’re welcome, CW. The thing is, public elections in this country are conducted according to law. There is never any conspiracy (by legislators/election officials) to skew outcomes in favour of particular candidates, or groups of candidates. You should have known that. The fact that you thought something “suspect” might be happening was extremely annoying to me, which is why I responded the way I did. Would you have put up your “offending” comment if the names of the candidates you approve of were in high positions on your voting documents? I suspect not.

    Even now, you say that “the ploy is wasted in my particular case.” Your use of the word “ploy” implies you think election officials somehow managed to deliberately place the names of candidates you do not like in high positions on your particular voting documents, presumably in the hope of tricking you into voting for them. That is crazy stuff.

    Finally, no-one should be ‘voting from the top’, otherwise known as the “donkey vote”. The “donkey vote” occurs mainly in Australian single-seat STV elections, because people are not only required by law to vote – meaning many people vote under sufferance – but they must also rank-order all the candidates. Fortunately, neither of these requirements apply here.

  13. Conor Hill, 22. September 2019, 19:15

    Four drains to the planes!