Justin Lester told he is new Wellington mayor while getting haircut

Justin Lester was getting a haircut when he took the phone call telling him he had won the race to become Wellington mayor.

Shortly after Wellington City Council confirmed Lester had a clear majority, his team sent out a press statement saying he would "hit the ground running".

But first he had to get through a last-minute haircut - the 37-year-old was in the barber's chair at The Groom Room at Barker's Lambton Quay when the call came through.

His team had expected preliminary results around 5.30pm, but the margin of victory meant they could be released sooner.

Lester is currently with family but will shortly go to his campaign event at Te Wharewaka o Poneke on Wellington's waterfront.

He said he was "absolutely ecstatic" at the news.

"I have to say it's one of the best days of my life."

He said his priorities would remain the same as he'd said they were on his election campaign. They were about focusing on transport and housing, making sure that Wellington "doesn't become another Auckland".

According to progress election results, Labour-endorsed Lester has won by a clear margin over independent and outgoing Porirua mayor Nick Leggett.

Centre-right candidate Jo Coughlan is in third place.

Coughlan tweeted her congratulations to Lester.

"Congrats to Justin, best of luck," the tweet said.

In the press release, Lester said the council needed to unlock investment funding immediately.

"And to do that I know it is important to reset and strengthen the relationship between our city council and central government.

"My first official phone calls will be made to the Beehive to rebuild those relationships."

Wellington's Returning Officer, Clare Sullivan, said Lester won by a majority of more than 6000 in the last iteration of the progress result.

She said some 4500 votes still have to be counted - but they are not expected to change the result.

Progress voter turnout in Wellington is at 42 per cent, compared with 40.85 per cent in 2013, and 40 per cent in 2010.

Sullivan said the turnout had benefited from a "major last-minute surge" of voters.

Lester has been a councillor since 2010 and was appointed deputy mayor by outgoing mayor Celia Wade-Brown three years ago.

Wade-Brown was still in the running when he announced his candidacy in December, but later dropped out and threw her support behind him.

Lester's to do list includes the waterfront film museum, extending the airport runway and a convention centre.

He has also vowed to focus on support for small business - he co-founded health food chain Kapai in 2005 - housing and economic investment.

Lester's victory will be a relief for Labour, who were surprised by the challenge of Leggett, which split the centre-left vote.

Leggett resigned from Labour - which he joined at age 15 - just before announcing his nomination as an independent.

In that way he avoided being expelled because it against the rules for members to stand against endorsed candidates.

Labour leader Andrew Little made an attack on Leggett in August while explaining why he had asked Napier MP Stuart Nash not to speak at an event at which Leggett was speaking, saying the event involved a number of "right-wingers".

Others standing for mayor included councillors Nicola Young, Andy Foster and Helene Ritchie, and economist and writer Keith Johnson.

Lester stood on a joint Labour ticket with fellow Wellington City councillor Paul Eagle, who will be his deputy mayor.

Progress results for the Wellington City Council ward votes are:

• Northern: Malcolm Sparrow, Jill Day and Peter Gilberd elected.
• Onslow-Western: Andy Foster, Simon Woolf and Diane Calvert elected.
• Lambton: Iona Pannett, Nicola Young and Brian Dawson elected.
• Southern: Paul Eagle and David Lee elected.
• Eastern: Sarah Free, Simon Marsh and Chris Calvi-Freeman elected.

- NZ Herald

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