David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

David Fisher: Contender brings colourful characters for the ride

Remember John Palino? The 2013 Auckland mayoral candidate who had a campaign team member busted trying to use Mayor Len Brown's adulterous affair for political advantage?

He's back! He wants to be mayor!

Palino's last campaign team included people who led him into an electoral faecal morass. Last weekend, in his only interview, he stressed the importance of having the right people in his team.

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So, who did he find? How about Cameron Slater, Carrick Graham and Simon Lusk? You may recognise their names from the best-seller Dirty Politics.

Naturally, there were a few questions at Palino's candidacy launch at his Friend of the Farmer cafe, out the back of Kings Plant Barn in rural Auckland. Palino thumps the stump, saying he would cut rates by 10 per cent if elected mayor.

The council has been "treating ratepayers like an unlimited ATM that they can take as much money as they like from", he says.

Incidentally, his cafe charges $6 for flat whites.

Palino says policy will come to match promises. He then turns to the media for questions.

Most questions are from those trying to understand the team he has gathered. What of Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater, who first reported that Len Brown was having an extra-marital affair?

Slater was the go-between for Palino, fixing the weekend interview with a Sunday newspaper. He was the central character in the Dirty Politics saga, and known for saying: "Politics is a nasty, despicable game and it's played by nasty, despicable people."

Palino says Slater was instructed to fix the interview by his friend Lusk, a would-be Machiavellian political operator also starring in Dirty Politics.

Lusk, it turns out, is Palino's campaign manager. This is the same person the National Party has warned its MPs away from. Lusk's motto, apparently, is: "Dominate, intimidate and humiliate."

And Carrick Graham, who is at Friend of the Farmer as Palino's organiser and media minder. He sends out Palino's press releases. In Dirty Politics, he was cast as the bag man, paying Slater (it was alleged) to have the blogger run attack articles in favour of Graham's clients.

Palino doesn't want to talk about scandal, old or new. Auckland needs to look ahead, not behind, he says. He doesn't want to talk about the past.

But the questions continue. Palino gets combative, and then (verbally) punchy. Bellicose, all angry and righteous, it is like a mini-Donald Trump eruption. "You're not interested in the truth. You're interested in the media," he says.

"I got Simon Lusk working for me because he's the best. He's the best at running campaigns. He wins them," says Palino, who didn't wander blind into his arrangement. "I told him already I want no smear campaigns. I've had that discussion with him. He said 'fine, I understand that'."

So, smear jobs are out. The candidate has de-selected that option.

Look, says Palino, there was dirty politics last time but it was Len Brown's team who played dirty by trying to drag him into their sex scandal - a menage du politique.

Now he says Brown's old team is working for Phil Goff. As a result, he says, "I'm going to arm myself with the best team possible."

Palino's really going by now, fast-talking and frustrated. Media, well, they're just not talking about what matters and Palino knows what matters.

Jobs matter, he says. He interviews frequently. With a voice strained with emotion, frustration, unrealised dreams and hopes, he cries out: "My heart breaks when I interview these people and they can't get a job. It's not fair."

It sounds as if tears are coming but his eyes are dry.

- NZ Herald

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