By BERNARD ORSMAN
Businessman Dick Hubbard is in the thick of a toxic battle for the Auckland City mayoralty with reporters prying on him at church and Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall throwing support behind his besieged friend.
In an extraordinary day of political drama yesterday, when 270,000 Auckland City residents started receiving postal voting papers:
* Mr Hubbard dobbed in Trish Wanden, long-serving personal assistant to incumbent mayor John Banks, for screaming at him at a mayoral debate.
* The National Business Review published a five-page special about the cereal maker's business and personal life.
* Mr Tindall applauded Mr Hubbard's passion for sustainability.
* Former mayor Christine Fletcher started legal proceedings against Mr Hubbard for getting facts wrong.
Mr Hubbard, the political novice who leads career politicians Banks and Fletcher in a Herald-DigiPoll survey, accused the business weekly of doing a "hatchet job" on his business record and stooping to the lowest of the low in gutter journalism by planting a reporter at St George's Anglican Church in Epsom last Sunday.
"Saying prayers in church is a deeply personal moment and I think no reporter under any circumstances has got any right to go and comment on somebody's body language in a moment of prayer," he said.
Reporter Coran Lill described Diana Hubbard's behaviour at the charismatic service: "I could tell things were about to get good, but I wasn't quite prepared for what happened ... First there was a noticeable shake, like an electric shock running through her frame.
"Then the right arm shuddered and headed for the ceiling. It was closely followed by the left, reaching to the heavens in a shuddering fit of biblical emotion while her devoted voice hit the rafters."
Mr Hubbard said National Business Review claims that he faced a "credibility crisis" were disgraceful.
He disputed a front-page story saying he "deceived the nation by falsely claiming on national television that he had produced his company's much-vaunted triple-bottom-line corporate social responsibility report twice" when he had produced only one report, in 2001.
A triple-bottom-line report includes social, environmental and financial activities.
Mr Hubbard said that when he made the statement on TV One's Face to Face with Kim Hill, he was choked up to the eyeballs with flu.
"It wasn't easy for me. I said 2001. I corrected myself to 2002. There is no 'and' in there and they have taken that to mean two," said Mr Hubbard, who believed he had muddled up the years.
He disputed the newspaper's claim that only two of the 95 staff at Hubbard Foods he took to Samoa in 1998 were still with the company. Of the 98 staff who went to Samoa, 36 were still working there.
One of the NBR reporters behind the stories, Jock Anderson, told One News last night that "in our view Dick Hubbard is not up to it".
"He is a low payer. He narrowly averted a strike earlier this week. His business isn't as successful financially as one might think it is," Anderson said.
Mr Hubbard said pay rates at Hubbard Foods were in the mid range. Service and Food Workers' Union national secretary Darien Fenton said it was untrue a strike was narrowly averted. Staff met and ratified a 3.25 per cent pay rise, she said.
The newspaper attack prompted Mr Tindall, who is also chairman of the Business Council for Sustainable Development, to issue a statement praising Mr Hubbard's record.
"Dick is a founder member of the business council and like all of our members is on a journey towards improving the social, environmental as well as economic performance of his company.
"He has been absolutely committed to driving awareness of sustainable development in New Zealand and has always been ready to engage with our project work," Mr Tindall said.
"We believe that is worth applauding."
An Auckland City Council spokeswoman said chief executive Bryan Taylor was looking into Trish Wanden's behaviour at Thursday's public debate hosted by the Tamaki Drive Protection Society, where she pointed and shouted at Mr Hubbard.
Three months ago, Trish Wanden was "counselled" after City Vision councillor Glenda Fryer complained that she had become involved in a political debate between councillors on the V8 streetcar race.
Mayoral press secretary Cameron Brewer breached council rules on Tuesday for questioning Mr Hubbard at a mayoral debate.
Mrs Fletcher said she was taking legal action against Mr Hubbard over false comments he had made about her views on the eastern highway at Thursday's public debate.
Meanwhile, an eight-page publication by big business in Thursday's Herald pushing for more action on roads and presenting Mr Banks as "cheerleader for Auckland's network completion" has drawn criticism.
Action Hobson candidate Christine Caughey said the "$100,000-plus advertisements were evidence of panic by the pro-road campaign".
City Vision chairman John Hill said Aucklanders would have to wait until 2020 for public transport.