Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Time out with mates is hardly a sin

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Andrew Williams. Photo / The Aucklander
Andrew Williams. Photo / The Aucklander

How times change. When I was a young reporter and spotted a politician in a pub, the first instinct was to extract a drink off him and, if you were lucky, a story as well.

But these days, it seems you can make your name just by exposing the drinking. Or hinting at it. And here was I, approaching my dotage and thinking my generation was passing on a more liberal society.

So North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams is like many journalists, and tens of thousands of other Kiwi workers, and enjoys a drink or two after work with his mates from time to time. Shock horror.

Last Thursday night it seems an eagle-eyed reporter followed him back to the council offices after an evening out and observed him having a pee against a tree before climbing into his car and driving home.

Besides themselves with glee, his political rivals have donned the ancient garb of tambourine-bashing temperance wowsers, and are now baying for his resignation.

They're being egged on by Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, one of the mayor's favourite whipping boys.

Leading the lynch squad is the secretary of Mr Hide's Act Party, Nick Kearney, a Glenfield Community Board member.

I can't help wondering that if the Act Party is so concerned about alcohol and local government, then why did Mr Hide approve the appointment of Doug McKay as interim chief executive of the new Auckland Super Council?

His last job was CEO of Independent Liquor, which made its founders multimillionaires by peddling alcopop to Auckland's vulnerable teens.

The insinuation against Mr Williams is that he drove home drunk. Confounding this is the evidence of two bar staff who insist that he and three companions drank just two bottles of wine over four hours.

If this is so, and the expert calculations of Transport Minister Steven Joyce are accurate, then the mayor wasn't over the limit. Not from that session, anyway.

Speaking to a conference of traffic experts in Auckland last September, Mr Joyce said he could drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine in 90 minutes yet still have every chance of being under the legal alcohol limit for adult drivers.

To put it in context, he went on to say "that's just ridiculous", but admitted that was the law as it stands, and that it would be difficult for him to gain popular acceptance for a further cut.

So that leaves the charge of urinating in public. To me, that's a bit like the "have you smoked marijuana?" query.

I find it hard to believe anyone who answers in the negative, either. Surely everyone's been caught short at least once in their adult life, or believe me, will be.

The only one who saw the act reported it in his newspaper, but not to the constabulary. As far as assaults against trees go, it's hardly a sacking offence. Other mayors have got away with much worse.

Former National Party Cabinet minister and Queenstown mayor, Warren Cooper, for example.

One rainy night in November 1996, he was found hacking away at the roots of a 122-year-old Wellingtonia sequoia tree with an axe. He'd removed seven or eight pavers to make the job easier.

"I have these little fetishes," he said, claiming the roots had been tripping up pedestrians, and going through the town bureaucracy was a time-consuming process.

This eccentric behaviour did nothing to tarnish Mr Cooper's reputation locally, and one suspects the same will be true for Mr Williams. The truth is, we like our mayors to be a bit eccentric.

Waitakere City Mayor Bob Harvey actually listed eccentricity in a guide to what mayors do, as one of the five "Es" of being a mayor.

The mayor's task, he said, "is leadership in the key of e". The others were enterprise, environment, education, and e-commerce and e-government.

Mayor Bob certainly practises what he preaches, in one classic incident baring his bottom in a public street to shut up a perennial critic of his policies.

Tim Shadbolt, odd-job man and an earlier Westie mayor, celebrated his surprise first victory by using the controversial mayoral limousine his predecessor had flaunted to tow his concrete mixer through the city streets.

Now the long-time mayor of Invercargill, he wears his quirky behaviour like a badge of honour and it seems to work.

He might well have copied it from the legendary Mayor Robbie of his Auckland boyhood, who thought nothing of parading through the streets of Auckland shirtless to make a point - I can't recall what it was now - and get his photo in the papers.

At the risk of being reported to the Human Rights Commission, being a transsexual didn't do Georgina Beyer any harm when she stood and won the Carterton mayoralty.

Nor did one-time Mt Roskill mayor David Hay suffer by lurking in the shadows of one of the early gay Hero Parades down Queen St with his movie camera.

Eccentric it was, as was Mayor Christine Fletcher climbing up on a table after one city council meeting to remove a portrait of the Queen and hide it in the mayoral dunny.

Then there's Michael Laws of Whanganui fame, but let's not go there.

The fact is, a touch of eccentricity goes with the territory.

It's never done a mayor any harm in the past, and how ever frustrating it might be to his opponents, it's not going to do Mr Williams any harm going into the future.

- NZ Herald

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