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 We could be charitable and suggest that some of his website’s pages are simply out-of-date, but it’s pretty hard to accept his contention that he would make an effective mayor when he can’t even pass Campaigning 101.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.