Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Only selflessness can save Brown

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Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker
Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker

Everyone's piling in on our hapless mayor.

The political attacks from his enemies and public callings for him to resign, including from the powerful NZ Herald, will be stressful for him.

But the poundings from the daily incoming missiles are insignificant compared to the trauma of seeing the humiliation and hurt his wife and daughters are suffering because of his conduct. Their idol has stained them with a stench that will linger forever.

That is the real reason Len Brown looks like the walking dead.

What Brown did destroyed his reputation. He may resign after he has had the summer to ponder his options. But I suspect he won't.

In any event, he still commands the support (albeit reluctant) of his 20-person council. The silence from his political allies is deafening, although it's only the five hard right-wingers who are grandstanding by calling for his head.

When Rodney Hide was minister of local government he wrote the rules of the SuperCity to create a powerful presidential mayor who was immune from public opinion or his council. The mayor can't be forced to resign - he appoints the deputy mayor and the committee heads; he sets the budget and gets $4million a year to appoint his own political and media minders. Frankly, they should all be sacked for incompetence. But that's another story.

An all-powerful mayor was established because John Banks was supposed to win. Unfortunately for the Government, the kid from southside won.

A Banks mayoralty was all set up for a coup where Auckland's assets would have been hocked off before lunchtime. The ports and airport would have gone first, followed by water, carparks and anything else that would make money for new owners.

Imagine if Banks, as our mayor, was in the court for what he is currently accused of - concealing anonymous money? Would the right wing be calling now for his resignation? If they claim yes, then they would be calling for Banks to resign from Parliament now.

Until this week Brown's crime has been mainly about moral hypocrisy by using his wholesome family image to help his career for years while being privately the opposite. Without doubt, if any council employees had used council property or work time for trysts, they would have been fired with the mayor's blessing.

This week the findings of the investigation take things to another level. His conduct crossed from his personal misbehaviour to the professional compromise of the office of mayor.

At first glance the report finding of non-disclosure of hotel room upgrading was a little pedantic. However, he knew hotels would automatically upgrade him to VIP status for nothing. Obviously he considered it a perk he chose not to declare. But staying at SkyCity hotels with undeclared freebies at the same time the "convention centre for pokies" deal was being done is inappropriate for several serious reasons.

If Brown succeeds to tough out the present onslaught, his small hope of repairing any of his reputation is for the next three years to do good things that will overshadow his personal shortcomings.

For example, the mayor should follow through and declare all of Auckland City a living-wage town, starting with his own employees. And how about sacking the Ports of Auckland board and get the continuous port workers' dispute settled, instead of the pathetic handwringing he did in his first term?

Brown won't get another term, regardless of what happens. So he should forget about himself and spend his energy doing big meaningful things for the people who put him there. That's the mayor's pathway to redemption.

Otherwise he may as well resign now and put himself, his family and us out of our misery.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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