Pam Corkery: Get a grip, Len, you've been such a let-down

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Mr Brown's partial concession to council workers was the latest stumble in an inglorious run. Photo / Richard Robinson
Mr Brown's partial concession to council workers was the latest stumble in an inglorious run. Photo / Richard Robinson

Not voting is alien to me and I have been guilty of preaching to fellow citizens who aren't up for democracy at the moment.

I am going to stop, because events have forced me to look at Len Brown, then look away again - quickly.

I don't blame Mayor Brown for the nationwide apathy about local-body elections. But he can cop a fair chunk of the responsibility in Auckland.

Mr Brown is a cartoon politician. He was the people's choice who presented his arse for a smooch as soon as he got the boss' job.

He has been a bleeder looking for something sharp to bump into in the past few days. The impact happened on release of the council annual report, including salaries.

There are more than 100 council staff on $200,000, 1500 on more than $100,000, and from there the wages start to get flash.

Both the chief executive of the council, Doug McKay, and Mark Ford, the chief executive of Watercare, are near the $800,000 mark, courtesy of decent wage rises in the past year.

Mr Brown explained this away, like the sophisticate he aspires to be, as the council having to "meet the market".

Gas station attendants know that the market is, in reality, an entwined grouping of company board-hoppers who keep the pay rates inflated.

The members of this exclusive club are hardly going to push salaries down in grim times and settle for a ham and a Mitre 10 voucher at Christmas.

Voter resentment over the salary figures has been swift and loud but not driven by ideology, or by envy. The injustice has marked the wood that political institutions are run by the few looking out for themselves.

So Mr Ford and Mr McKay earn more than 20 times the so-called living wage of $38,200 a year - a sum that is still just a hope for those who clean, provide security and deal with waste, for the Auckland Council.

At five-minutes-to the ballots being counted, the mayor finally declared tentative support for the living wage while speaking at a public meeting last week in his hood of South Auckland. It was reported that many in the audience earned the minimum wage.

Behaving as though it was coming out of his own pocket, Mr Brown pledged to give his weight to "seriously assessing whether or not we can achieve this [the living wage] within the overall context of good prudent, financial management".

Dial back the enthusiasm, bro', and how interesting to have an outsider's point of view. Under the mayor's stewardship, council debt has almost doubled to nearly $7 billion.

It is unconscionable that the mayor would give only a conditional tick to an extra couple of million to raise mostly contract workers' pay from a minimum to a living level of dollars. As one candidate for the Auckland District Health Board said, it also cost money abolishing slavery but it had to be done.

Mr Brown's partial concession to council workers was the latest stumble in an inglorious run.

Other lowlights have been the mayor impaling himself on the fence when the wharf workers came under attack from the council-owned ports company.

Then there's the SkyCity convention deal. From the outset, the mayor loved it. He voted against the majority of council in favour of a pact that would see gambling legislation changed for more pokies in return for a convention centre, possibly with his name engraved on a commemorative plaque.

But in the past couple of weeks, Mr Brown has had another clumsy bob-each-way, declaring that he's for the convention centre but against the financial deal underpinning it.

The truly pathetic aspect of Mr Brown's first term as Super City mayor has been that he has ended up impressing no one. Neither those who put him in office nor the smart crowd he seems desperate to be buddies with do more than tolerate him now.

The miserable voter participation in this year's local elections is part of the malaise blighting other developed countries with huge disparities in wealth.

While expressing our autonomy is a universal human desire, it drops down the priority list during grim and inequitable times.

Personal and economic security inevitably takes precedence over democracy because there's nothing in it for so many.

Mind you, there's the saying about the bad apple. Don't let it spoil the rest. It takes about five minutes to fill out your ballot paper. Hop to it.

- NZ Herald

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