Editorial: Mayor asking a lot for city to back him

Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Michael Craig
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Michael Craig

Len Brown is not the man Aucklanders thought he was when they elected him their mayor for a second term just last Saturday. His fall from grace has nothing to do with his performance in public life but the distinction between the public and private lives of a public figure is never clear cut. When private behaviour becomes public knowledge it cannot simply be washed from everyone's mind.

The mayor will wear this embarrassment everywhere he appears and every time he speaks for the city. Eventually he might live it down but probably not - unless he begins to register achievements for Auckland that overshadow the tawdry affair revealed on Tuesday by the woman involved.

Mr Brown thinks he can live it down and appeals to Aucklanders to retain confidence and trust in him. He is asking a great deal. Readers voting on the Herald website are declaring by a hefty margin they would prefer him to resign. Had those who voted for him in the past few weeks known what they know now, the election could have been very different.

The disclosure would have dominated the discussion. It would certainly not have abated after a single, suitably shaken appearance on television and a public apology of sorts on his part. But it is possible that in the absence of an alternative candidate with local government experience, a sufficient number would still have voted for him despite their disappointment.

The size of his personal vote in successive elections provides the one persuasive reason why he deserves a chance to redeem himself.

The fact that no rival emerged from the ranks of the Auckland Council to contest the mayoral election speaks volumes for his leadership. His first task yesterday was to meet council members who must be as disappointed as anyone who thought they knew him.

Not all of his former supporters on the council will share his confidence that he can carry on regardless and strongly promote the programmes they want to advance, such as urban intensification and a central rail loop. Were he to step down now, there would no doubt be council members standing for his job.

Those on the left, such as former regional council chairman Mike Lee, suppressed their ambitions at the birth of the Super City for the sake of a united front. They must feel let down today. On the right, John Palino's mayoral bid from outside the council did well enough, attracting 100,000 votes, to make him a serious contender again.

Certainly, a repeat election could attract a better turnout than the race Mr Brown was always going to win easily last Saturday. If he stood again, would he win?

Some will say that honour requires him to find out, that it is not enough to appeal to Aucklanders to keep faith in him. The decent thing to do would be to resign and offer himself for the voters' verdict. But that is a lot to ask of him. Decency can go unrecognised, particularly in these circumstances.

So he means to press on, saying no more about what he did. He might be a little less volubly passionate in his public sentiments, which would be no bad thing, but his enthusiasm and commitment to the city cannot be questioned. If his family can forgive this lapse, the city should too.

Forgiving is not forgetting. The record is never wiped clean. Auckland knows its mayor a little better now than it did a week ago. It is up to him to live up to his position from now on and recover the city's respect.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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