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The fall-out from the Wade-Brown withdrawal

by PCGM
Well, that sure took a few people by surprise. Celia Wade-Brown has taken the noble way out and announced she won’t be standing [1] in the October mayoral election. Which may not be bad news if you’re not a fan of the Island Bay Cycleway (or own cats, perhaps), but will mark a sea-change in Wellington’s local body politics. So how will her decision affect the rest of the campaign?

There’s no endorsement!

Strangely, Celia has declined to endorse any of her competitors. She was widely expected to do so for Justin Lester, who was seen as her anointed successor for the Big Office. That’s not to say she won’t throw her weight behind him at some later point, but you’d think a quick flick-pass in Lester’s direction would be better than some drawn-out head-scratching.

Of course, she may not be completely entranced by Justin’s boyish good looks or his innocuous populist policies. Looking from the outside, there seems to have been some friction between mayor and deputy over the past year – or at least since Justin made his ambitions known – so perhaps Wade-Brown is merely burying the hatchet … in his mayoral campaign.

Speaking of endorsements, Jo Coughlan has been furiously tweeting [2] that former mayor Kerry Prendergast has endorsed her. Which is interesting. Coughlan has been seen as the minor player in the tussle to secure the all-important property developer and corporate mover-and-shaker demographic – currently a hard-fought battle between developer-friendly Leggett and developer-friendly Lester – so perhaps she has more reach than we gave her credit for.

Does this mean Peak Green has arrived?

Not so long ago, we were speculating [3] that councillor Iona Pannett would be moving to the deputy mayor’s office if Celia signed on for a third term. Those dreams have now receded well out of reach, because we can’t think of a single serious mayoral contender who would be rushing to sign Pannett up for the role.

And no matter what else happens between now and the polls closing, Wade-Brown’s departure means the Green ascendancy around the council table is at an end (well, unless this bloke [4] comes from behind in a major way). The Green bloc will go back to being what it was before Celia’s mayoralty – a tight-knit but small faction that could only get its way by negotiating rather than insisting.

In addition to Pannett, councillors Sarah Free and David Lee are all devoted to the Green cause. But without a green (sorry, independent) mayor to provide the necessary heavyweight support and useful portfolio allocation, their influence around the council table is probably going to wane. Which may make some anti-cycleway lobbyists pretty happy.

What happens to the ABCs?

Some campaigns – we’re looking at you, Nicola Young – almost seem to be defined by the things they’re against, rather than the things they’re for. In many respects, the sheer number of councillors climbing onto the mayoral bandwagon seemed to be a vote of no confidence [5] in Wade-Brown’s leadership skills. What happens now that their arch-nemesis has exited the stage?

The first problem for a few of the contenders is that they’ll have to define their own policy platforms, rather than just opposing Celia’s. It’s no good being anti-cycleway if the bicycling advocate-in-chief is no longer there to oppose. Some late-night policy rewriting over the weekend may be necessary to reflect the new reality.

And the pretenders – the people who don’t really have a snowball’s chance of taking the mayoral chains – will have to decide whether they can be bothered. If their intention was to get rid of Celia by pulling preferences away from her, well … job done.

Mayoral campaigns are a tough, expensive business that are as much a test of stamina as anything else, so they may have second thoughts about the effort needed, and decide that a bit of time with the family might be a more enjoyable way to spend the next couple of months. We’ll have to see what happens when nominations close on 12 August.