The sportsman who wants to be mayor

John Morrison’s campaign to become mayor of Wellington got off to an awkward start last week when he was pre-empted on two of the “key matters” which he said needed action.

His “key matters” are expansion of Wellington Airport’s runway, and regional governance. He said it’s time for them both “to be resolved”. But other people have taken the lead in seeking resolution for both of them.

On the same day that he announced his mayoral ambitions, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown unveiled a plan for the council to spend $1million helping the Wellington Airport company pay for a resource consent seeking approval for a longer runway. No doubt Councillor Morrison will vote for this at Wednesday’s council meeting. But the council’s generous move will make it difficult for him to campaign on the need for “decisiveness and action” on this issue.

On his key matter of regional governance, Councillor Morrison specifies that he’s thinking of amalgamation reforms. This topic has also taken an unexpected leap forward because the mayors of the Wairarapa’s three councils have lodged an application to amalgamate, but outside any supercity. Their move seems to have kick-started the process towards a decision on whether or not some of the region’s local administrations will merge. Again, without Councillor Morrison being needed to push things along.

Another of his concerns is that the council should be focusing on “jobs and opportunities and energising people.” This is surprising – he must have forgotten that last June he voted for the council’s grand plan to create 10,000 new jobs in the next two years. Or perhaps he has doubts about whether the strategy is working. Let’s expect him to explain why he no longer has confidence in it. And what alternative he’s planning.

He will, however, have been pleased to see the results of a survey which said that Wellington’s IT staff are “happier and better paid” than their Auckland counterparts. The survey also found that over 70 per cent of Wellington private sector IT employers are planning to take on new staff this year, while 69 per cent of public sector employers are planning to recruit IT workers too.

If it’s going to be difficult for him to attack employment issues, then what’s left for Councillor Morrison to campaign about? More spending on sport, perhaps?

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who has frequently been the subject of criticism from Councillor Morrison, gave one of her characteristically muted responses to the announcement that he would be running against her for the mayoralty. “It’s a sign of a healthy democracy to have a strong mayoral race.” But then she came up with a back-handed compliment: “I’ve enjoyed working with him on many sports initiative such as the artificial sports fields and sports games.” Which seems to be rather painting the ex cricketer into a corner – do we want a mayor whose main experience is sport?

This does seem to be how he sees himself. Here’s how he lists his achievements of the last three years:

Great range of events and sporting contests, new Indoor Stadium, Basin Reserve upgrade, Nairnville Park artificial playing surface, Karori Park upgrade, Khandallah Hall upgrade, New Khandallah community centre, Khandallah Village upgrade, new “learn to swim” opportunities, sportsfield strategy to introduce new artificial playing surfaces, leisure cards for seniors, Rugby World Cup preparations.

Nine out of his twelve council achievements (in his own summary) are sporting ones. It seems that Mayor Wade-Brown, in her usual low-key style, has made a valid point against her mayoral contender.


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