Wellington Scoop

Election scorecard: week 3

Wellington’s mayoral campaign moved up another notch last week, with a fifth councillor throwing his hat into the ring, allegations of Labour Party dirty politics, and a large helping of schadenfreude from a disaffected and departing council employee. It’s proving to be the most interesting campaign in recent memory.

Long-time councillor Andy Foster decided that the city simply couldn’t function without his decisive and astute leadership, so announced a mayoral run. That makes five – five! – councillors vying to replace Celia Wade-Brown, in what we suspect is an unprecedented show of disunity and dissatisfaction with her mayoralty.

Leaving aside the “why” of councillor Foster’s run, the “what” seems pretty much indistinguishable from other contenders. Here’s what his website has to say:

We need to build on these strengths, face up to the big challenges, and grasp the opportunities that lie ahead. Our population is growing and ageing. Technology is changing fast. We must respond to the global threat of climate change. We don’t want Auckland’s housing problems, and preparation is critical to avoid the disaster that befell Christchurch.

Which is all laudable if vanilla stuff, and which has also been well-covered by the copywriters for every other mayoral candidate. But wait – buried on a page in his website is a true point of differentiation that makes Councillor Foster stand out from the crowd:

Looking ahead – where I see Wellington in three years’ time
We have a world-leading transport strategy finished in 2014. The Basin flyover and Kent-Cambridge and Adelaide Road boulevards and PT priority are almost finished. Consent has been granted for the Mt Victoria tunnel and associated walkway/cycleway and Ruahine St widening.

Apparently Andy Foster has a fully functioning time machine, or perhaps a penchant for living in some parallel universe where he snipped the ribbon on the new Basin Reserve flyover, accompanied by cheering crowds … rather than it ignominiously going down in flames at the Board of Inquiry. To make the obvious point, the chances of the Basin flyover being completed are now exactly zero. We could be charitable and suggest that some of his website’s pages are simply out-of-date, but it’s pretty hard to accept his contention that he would make an effective mayor when he can’t even pass Campaigning 101.

Dirty Politics comes to Wellington

True to the Labour Party’s penchant for conducting nasty factional squabbles in public, the in-fighting between its various tribes took an interesting turn. Allegations were made that Justin Lester’s mayoral run was being assisted by the Labour Party’s parliamentary staff, using taxpayer resources that should be firewalled from local body politics.

The source for the leak was the Whaleoil-linked Taxpayers’ Union, which had clearly been fed an incriminating email from some disaffected Labour staffer. As we noted at the time, the Taxpayer’s Union isn’t exactly a bastion of unbiased reportage, so there may well have been some political motivations behind the attack.

Despite this, the email does look awful like a smoking gun – it’s hard to see how making a campaign video for an aspiring mayoral candidate is an appropriate use of parliamentary resources. And as far as we can tell, both Justin Lester and the Labour Party have been utterly silent on the propriety or otherwise of this particular manoeuvre – any response to what are pretty serious allegations has gone un-tweeted and otherwise unremarked upon.

Clearly it’s a case of “Nothing to see here folks, move along. Look – pictures of smiling babies! A rainbow! A unicorn! A baby on a unicorn jumping over a rainbow … !”

Putting the boot in

And speaking of disaffection, the Dominion Post broke the story of Pete Whiting, a transport engagement officer hired from Australia, who departed from the Wellington City Council after only four months on the job. In a move that we probably all wish we’d made, he took a good hard swipe at a dysfunctional culture on his way out the door:

In an email sent on July 11, after his resignation, he lambasted councillors and senior management, saying he had never before encountered a council that would “bury its head in the sand over transport and future transport issues”. He accused them of turning the Island Bay cycleway “into a political mess”, to the point “where the project completely stalled”, leaving him with virtually nothing to do. “You should all be ashamed of yourselves in the way you treat each other and the issue,” Whiting wrote, in reference to the cycleway.

Really, read the whole article – it’s a delightful commentary on the political back-stabbing, poor decision-making and sheer ineptitude that has dogged the cycleway. And even council managers had to admit Pete Whiting had a point:

Council acting chief executive Greg Orchard said on Wednesday: “Mr Whiting had some arguably justifiable grievances.”

All this rather casts Celia Wade-Brown’s comments less than a month earlier that “people want good cycleways…let’s move forward and add more around the rest of the city, having learned from our mistakes in Island Bay” in rather a poor light. It’s all very well claiming that all the mistakes have been fixed, but it’s hardly a good look if the staff responsible for doing the fixing are saying it just ain’t so – particularly on the front page of the Dominion Post.

For Celia Wade-Brown and her mayoral aspirations, the Island Bay Cycleway is the gift that just keeps on giving.


  1. Charlotte, 27. July 2016, 8:23

    Are you sure that the the e-mail leak didn’t come from someone closely associated with a former disaffected member of the Labour Party? It seems that the dirty tricks are continuing. Someone is spreading nasty rumours about candidate links with China (which in one case I know to be totally false). It is a sad day that our Mayor can’t travel to China on city business without there being allegations of this type being made.
    Rumours about two new candidates continue. And rumours about Lester being a big winner from the Mallard decision also continue. Has Justin given an absolute undertaking that he will not be seeking the Labour Party nomination for Ohariu at the next general election?

  2. Warren, 27. July 2016, 8:52

    Mayor Celia is rightly taking a lot of the flak but deputy mayor Justin Lester can’t escape criticism for the lack of leadership around council either. And neither can the CEO Kevin Lavery, conveniently overseas, whose job it is to run the council and ensure staff are able to perform. But don’t worry we have the mayor of Porirua coming to the rescue, or Foster, or Ritchie.

  3. Jack Little, 27. July 2016, 9:11

    Seems to me like the choice is clear to go up against CeliaWB: Jo Coughlan who has stayed above all this mess or Nik Leggett who isn’t involved by virtue of living in another city! (Despite his repeated attempts to inject himself into the issue in Facebook)

  4. Warren, 27. July 2016, 12:37

    Good point Charlotte. Lester happily came out strongly and ruled out amalgamation with Porirua. He needs to be just as public in ruling out running for central govt next year to do away with the rumours that his Labour mayoral campaign is to boost his profile? And he rules out also standing for council? If he has no intention then it should be easy to rule these things out.

  5. dale morris, 27. July 2016, 15:28

    I vote anybody who wants to put limits on those biking fundamentalists, who are out of control .The most used (apart from pools and the well run libraries ) is the artificial pitch at Wakefield Park. Always in use for many otherwise canceled games for kids on a Saturday mornings, and boys girls women men playing till late at nite .Why not more … and a cycleway that is good for nothing

  6. Hamish G, 27. July 2016, 18:32

    So Nick’s Labour property mates leak to knife Justin; Celia stands to knife Justin; and Justin stands to knife Virginia Andersen who nearly won Ohariu in 2014. If Lester’s leadership is anything like Little’s, I’m definitely saying no to Labour. The knives are definitely out.

  7. Diane Calvert, 28. July 2016, 16:53

    Personally I don’t have a problem with any candidate moving on to a central government role. So if Nick or Justin decide to carry on and stand next year, good on them. They are focused on winning this year and why should they get distracted in talking about life after the Council. They are all putting up a credible fight for the mayoralty. It makes sense to consider using their skills and desire to do public good if they don’t get elected for a leadership role at WCC.
    What I do have an issue with is those mayoral candidates who are really not interested in getting out and about and hearing from all communities or are using it is a cheap means of publicity to maintain their ward seats. It is distracting to the community of voters and all it does it split the vote further.
    We need credible, strong and collaborative leadership that will be respected and trusted inside and outside of the Council. Voters need to consider this when casting their vote


  8. Jo Coughlan, 28. July 2016, 20:15

    I’m only running for Wellington Mayor. Not Parliament. Not profile. Not to create a new party. What about the others? [via twitter[

  9. Sandy, 29. July 2016, 11:15

    Why is no one getting upset that Tim Brown of Infratil features prominently in Justin’s campaign video? Seeing Justin is number one cheerleader to throw millions of ratepayer dollars at the airport extension without even seeing a business case, and Tim Brown has made it abundantly clear that the project is uneconomic and wouldn’t be paid for out of Infratil’s abundant profits, there does seem to be something strange going on? Also note Justin’s ginormous poster at the airport – who paid for that: Infratil or the Labour Party? Does it mean the Labour Party now supports rate- and taxpayer handouts to a billion dollar corporate when the Nats are saying it’s a white elephant? Though I’d very much like to see all mayoral candidates declare their ties with Infratil – or other political parties (hey, Jo Coughlan?) if we want a truly transparent election…

  10. Richard Keller, 29. July 2016, 11:17

    Where is the discussion of the claim by the mayor that the city is making serious progress on the carbon-reduction front? What could be a more important ‘big scope’ issue? How has that claim been justified? Just how much more can be achieved? What are the next steps? In this light, Jo Coughlan’s ‘four lanes to the airport’ campaign is nothing more than a cry of desperation: ‘vote for me if you also are terrified of the future’. The Tea Party type furore in Island Bay in regards to the automobile/cycleway conflict can also be seen as that kind of a cry of desperation. When will we we regain our self-respect and face a search for the future within this local election?

  11. Paul Ross, 29. July 2016, 15:24

    Nick Leggett is simply a career politician who given a chance will run the council like a business with max borrowings and more income/rates money needed to service pea brained borrowings.

  12. Kumara Republic, 1. August 2016, 16:05

    The Nats don’t seem to complain about white elephants if they happen to be in Auckland.