Dana Wensley: Naughty mayors? They're everywhere

47 comments
Len Brown's not on his own, writes Dana Wensley, but what makes people in high office behave badly?

Len Brown has faced intense public scrutiny since his affair was revealed. Photo / Richard Robinson
Len Brown has faced intense public scrutiny since his affair was revealed. Photo / Richard Robinson

Every supercity seems to have a mayor behaving badly at its helm. Mayor Len Brown's exploits prove that Auckland can now rub shoulders with other supercities (think San Diego, Toronto, London, and Montreal) where voters cringe at what might next be revealed about their leader.

In Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford has been dodging one embarrassing allegation after another all year. It began with revelations of substance abuse and "inappropriate touching" of a female former mayoral candidate. Then followed rumours of a video purportedly showing Ford smoking crack cocaine.

Photos of Ford posing outside a house where the alleged video was made then surfaced, and conspiracy theories took hold after one of those in the photo was later shot and killed in downtown Toronto.

Despite this, Ford is still at the helm of Toronto, a supercity with a population of more than 2.6 million people. The only fallout has been that his chief-of-staff and half-dozen other staffers have resigned.

Unlike Aucklanders with Len Brown, Toronto voters can't say they weren't warned. During his 1999 mayoral campaign Ford was arrested in Miami, Florida, for driving under the influence and marijuana possession.

In Montreal, Canada's second largest city, Mayor Michael Applebaum was arrested in June for fraud after vowing when he took office last year to end corruption in the city.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner's sexual antics have caused so much embarrassment it's rumoured he has been advised not to meet female staffers behind closed doors. The city council has even lobbied for "workplace safety zones" to be created for workers who feel threatened.

And there was Anthony Weiner, who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for New York City's mayoral race after "sexting" lewd photos of himself to women using the alias Carlos Danger.

It raises the question of what is going on with these men when they attain office. Does politics attract men who are sexually hyper-charged, or is it true that power corrupts?

But the deeper question is does it matter? There are those who are happy to say it doesn't, as long as those in power do the job they were appointed to.

But this doesn't fully address the problem, because in politics - as in life - these things have repercussions that extend beyond the bedroom (or boardroom table).

Former Robert F. Kennedy speechwriter Jeff Greenfield describes President John Kennedy's sex life as "compulsive and reckless". And who could forget the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

Sexual transgressions lead to lies which in turn can lead to blackmail and corruption.

Detroit's mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty in 2008 to two felony obstruction charges after denying exchanging intimate text messages with his former chief of staff in a six-year affair. It wasn't the affair that sent them to jail, but the fact that they felt compelled to lie about it under oath.

How far should the media go in pursuing these allegations? Last week Ontario's Press Council in Canada ruled that the Star and the Globe and Mail (which broke the story of the alleged crack cocaine video of Rob Ford) acted responsibly and in the public interest.

And in England the Appeal Court has upheld the public's right to know that London Mayor Boris Johnson had a child with his mistress.

The Daily Mail, which initially published details of the alleged affair, was vindicated, after a High Court Judge described the stories as legitimate and suggested that Johnson's "recklessness" in conducting his extramarital affairs raised issues of his "fitness for public office".

No one is perfect. But nobody loves someone who pretends to be one thing but is another. Perhaps it is safer to declare upfront your flaws and trust people will see you as human.

Just look how successful President Barack Obama was after publishing in his book Dreams From My Father that he had tried drugs, and used cocaine ("maybe a little blow").

Airing dirty laundry in public may not seem a politically savvy thing to do - but if you don't do it, someone else will.


Dana Wensley has a PhD in law from King's College, London. Previously, she was an assistant editor at the Bulletin of Medical Ethics in London and a research fellow at the University of Otago.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 30 Jul 2014 05:47:47 Processing Time: 607ms