Justin Lester in barber's chair when told of Wellington mayoral victory

By Nicholas Jones, Melissa Nightingale

A teary-eyed Justin Lester last night thanked his "amazing" mum Dianne Whitty saying he wouldn't have become Wellington's new mayor without her.

"Mum, you're amazing. Thank you. You have been a big part of this campaign " even though you didn't ask to be a part of it necessarily."

Lester took long pauses as he gathered himself to continue with his speech.

"I couldn't have been here without you. Thank you for everything."

Lester also thanked his family, apologising for not being home for dinner many nights or to read books to his two daughters Madeleine, 5, and Harriet, 3, but promised wife Liz to be there more from now on.

Dianne Whitty, mother of new Wellington mayor Justin Lester. Photo / Facebook
Dianne Whitty, mother of new Wellington mayor Justin Lester. Photo / Facebook

On his website, Lester describes how his father left his mother when he was 11, and he grew up in a state house in Invercargill with his mother and two brothers.

"Like many solo parent families we lived a pretty frugal existence, but through our own initiative and the encouragement of our mum, each of us pulled our own weight and we managed to make ends meet."

The 37-year-old was getting a haircut when he took the phone call telling him he had won.

Lester said he would focus on transport and housing to ensure Wellington "doesn't become another Auckland".

But that would have to wait until he'd finished celebrating.

"So what are my priorities for the next three years? Well, we're going to have a bit of fun tonight, firstly," he said last night.

Lester wanted to support businesses, provide rates rebates for first home builders, provide free swimming for children under 5, freeze public transport costs, and establish the country's first wet house.

"I'm damn sure I'm going to keep these promises and deliver on my word . . . but that's all work for tomorrow.

"Tonight proves it doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter how much money you've got in the bank, it doesn't matter if you have two parents or just one, it matters if you work hard, you stick to your values, and achieve great things."

According to the provisional election results, Labour-endorsed Lester won by a clear margin over independent and outgoing Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett.

Labour leader Andrew Little attended Lester's victory party and said the success of Labour-aligned candidates in the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch mayoral races would give party members a boost.

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

Voter turnout in Wellington was last night 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 was against the rules for members to stand against endorsed candidates.

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

Lawrence Yule, mayor of Hastings. Photo / Duncan Brown
Lawrence Yule, mayor of Hastings. Photo / Duncan Brown

Meanwhile, Lawrence Yule secured his sixth term as Hastings mayor.

He said the result likely reflected his openness during the recent water contamination outbreak that saw residents of Havelock North come down with gastro illness.

Mayor of Gisborne Meng Foon. Photo / Alan Gibson
Mayor of Gisborne Meng Foon. Photo / Alan Gibson

In Gisborne, Meng Foon said he was "elated" to win a sixth term as mayor. And with 98 per cent of returned votes counted, both Hutt City Council Mayor Ray Wallace and Upper Hutt City Council Mayor Wayne Guppy are well ahead of their opponents.

The contest is much closer in New Plymouth, where progress results show just 420 votes separate mayoral candidates Neil Holdom and Richard Handley.

And Hamish McDouall is Whanganui's new mayor. McDouall was deputy mayor to Annette Main, who stepped down from the position.

- NZ Herald

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