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Iona for deputy mayor?

A recent tweet alerted us to a possibility that had yet to occur to the wellington.scoop brains trust – that left-leaning Green councillor Iona Pannett might well be Wellington’s next deputy mayor, assuming incumbent Celia Wade-Brown gets re-elected. The logic seems curiously inescapable – and goes like this.

Celia Wade-Brown’s council is now in open revolt [1], with five councillors having thrown their hat into the ring to succeed her – including current deputy mayor Justin Lester, long-term ally and transport portfolio leader Andy Foster, council stalwart and elder states-person Helene Ritchie, economic development leader Jo Coughlan, and energetic Lambton Ward councillor Nicola Young. Given the range of senior portfolios held by the challengers, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a vote of no confidence in Wade-Brown’s leadership.

But assuming she does make it home for a third term, it’s safe to say that she will be searching long and hard for a suitable deputy. After all, if the most experienced and capable councillors have expressed their desire to usurp her, who would you trust to stand behind the throne?

The list of possible candidates – who have the requisite experience and mana, as well as not being implacably opposed to Wade-Brown’s policies – turns out to be remarkably short. Clearly there are challenges with inviting the more right-wing councillors such as Simon “Swampy” Marsh into the position, and the lack of experience of many of the others – such as Simon Woolf – might make their ascension to the deputy role pretty risky.

If Wade-Brown is looking for allies at the top table, there’s really only one contender – Lambton Ward stalwart Iona Pannett. Like Celia, she’s a Green Party graduate, shares similar views on many issues such as the living wage and public transport, and – importantly – has three terms under her belt. So she understands how the council operates and (presumably) how to get things done in the increasingly toxic [2] environment of WCC.

Of course, councillor Pannett’s ascension would also signal a greater drift of council leadership towards the left/green spectrum. In her first term, Wade-Brown was happy to welcome the notably conservative Ian McKinnon to the deputy position, while her second term brought in the Labour councillor Justin Lester. But Iona Pannett appears to be further to left again – she is a vocal advocate [3]for greater public transport subsidies, reduced fares for students, the living wage, protecting Wellington from the ravages of the local feline population … in short, a grab-bag of Green Party policies.

If you’re a fan of everything green (or Green), then this is probably great news. But if you were hoping for a bit of balance on items such as rates increases – and perhaps thought that the odd roading improvement might not go astray – then having a green-leaning mayor plus a Green Party spokesperson as deputy might give you pause.

The only fly in the ointment may be that councillor Pannett also seems to be less than enthusiastic about the proposed airport extension, which could be a deal-breaker for the mayor. But if not Pannett, then whom?