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Herald on Sunday editorial: This is not the NZ way, Luigi

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Wewege was never a tall poppy in NZ, however often he had himself pictured with someone well-known.
Wewege was never a tall poppy in NZ, however often he had himself pictured with someone well-known.

With any luck, New Zealand has seen the last of Luigi Wewege and his style of politics. He told the Herald on Sunday in an interview when we tracked him down this week, that he is leaving the country and has friends in Washington DC who are "appalled" that he is suffering opprobrium for dishing dirt on Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

"Obviously," he says of New Zealand, "I didn't quite understand the tall poppy nature of the place." He deludes himself. He was never a tall poppy here, no matter how often he had himself photographed with somebody well-known. He was known only to some National Party insiders and they now have reason to wish they had never heard of him.

Dirt smears the digger as well as the target, which is why candidates in United States campaigns prefer not to know the trolls who do their dirty work for them.

"Opposition research", as it is delicately called, is said to be so common there that it is collected not necessarily for use but to ensure opponents do not use theirs - the principle of mutually-assured destruction.

The Prime Minister gave an odd hint of that practice here this week, mentioning that he kept scuttlebutt passed to him about the Labour Party in the top drawer of his desk. He was himself the target of some muck-raking in 2008 when Labour Party president Mike Williams went to Melbourne looking for something that might implicate John Key in the Equiticorp "H fee". Williams found nothing and his attempt hurt only Labour.

Wewege's effort has hurt his target, more than he says he expected. "All I ever knew was that the mayor was making propositions to (Bevan Chuang)", he insists in our story today. "I never knew there were any sexual relations between them."

Wewege, as is clear in his Facebook exchanges with Chuang, wanted her to invite some salacious text messages from the mayor that might be useful to US businessman John Palino's campaign. The campaign got much more than it bargained for when Chuang made her affidavit, albeit after the election.

They got more than most people would ever want to know about anybody's affair. Public opinion will differ on how much of this the public had a right to know. Certainly, the mayor's reference that helped get Chuang a job at the Art Gallery early in their affair is a matter of public interest.

This would not be known about the mayor, were it not for Wewege's efforts.

But before he is given any credit, it should be remembered that his purpose was never to inform the public - it was to help Palino. That would have been achieved by Brown's withdrawal from the race or post-election resignation, which was exactly what Chuang says she and Palino discussed when they met in the Mission Bay carpark.

Palino told her he did not believe a story would be published, she says. If events had gone to plan, the mayor would have resigned citing health problems, Palino would have had the highest vote of surviving candidates when the result was declared, Chuang, Brown and his family would have been saved public embarrassment and the public would have been none the wiser.

If this sounds like an American political intrigue, it is. It is not the way things are done here. Our elections are decided by voters, not by underhand threats and warnings. Brown upset this plan by standing his ground. Neither side emerges from the affair with much credit but the mayor is facing up to it. The spivs have scuttled away and should not come back.

- Herald on Sunday

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