Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has admitted he should have never called the media “drongos” in a WhatsApp message with friends explaining why he couldn’t play tennis at the weekend.
Brown appeared on the AM show today and admitted he regretted the message was “made public”.
Speaking on the phone, rather than in studio or on camera, the mayor described the slur as “inappropriate” but attempted to justify the reason he said it in the first place.
“I’m never going to be a smooth-talking politician and I do need to improve my communication.
“I probably shouldn’t have said the word drongo to a couple of friends of mine but I was just explaining why I couldn’t turn up to tennis that particular day.
“I regret it was made public, it was probably inappropriate but I do recognise the important role media play in an emergency.”
In messages leaked to the Herald earlier this week, Brown complained about having to cancel his weekend’s tennis plans “to deal with media drongos over the flooding”.
Asked why he had agreed to do a media interview, Brown said “it’s the first time there’s been a break in the weather”.
“I’ve been kind of buried and the need to improve the communications from not just ourselves but from the Auckland Emergency Management group. I’ve been responding to helpful suggestions from the government. We’ve instituted the Auckland Emergency twice-daily briefings to get things better. It’s been a huge improvement.”
Following Brown’s “drongo” gaffe, the Mayor rang the Herald on Monday night after a request for comment.
In a 30-minute phone call, he defended his handling of the flood response as well as his position as mayor.
“Don’t f**k me over,” he said.
“I am the mayor for three years. You can’t do anything about that,” he said. “No one else in New Zealand is going to get 180,000 votes. That was my mandate.
“Last month a guy in Hamilton got into Parliament with 6000 votes (referring to National’s Tama Potaka in the Hamilton West byelection). I got 30 votes for every one of those.”
Brown refused 106 media requests in his first month, granting only two interviews. His press conferences are few and opportunities to grab him for interviews at events emerge only rarely.
It’s not Brown’s first controversial comments during the flood response.
Last week, when questioned by RNZ about Auckland’s inability to handle such a downpour, Brown swiped back saying: “It will be interesting to see just how well-prepared Wellington is when the earthquake strikes.”
Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said she found Brown’s comments “distasteful and inappropriate at this time”.
Last weekend Brown also defended the time it took to declare a state of emergency for Auckland, as well as his role in the response, saying “my role isn’t to rush out with buckets”.
“There has been some speculation I could have acted sooner, but I couldn’t have. This is a formal process, not to be taken lightly,
“I personally I have been involved in one or two in the past, and careful assessment is important, careful steps, not rushed steps.
“And my role isn’t to rush out with buckets. It’s to be here ensuring that the centre is well organised and that we are taking the appropriate steps at the appropriate time, not rushing into them today in response to noise outside.
“This is a formal serious business, and the effects of it will go on for some time.”
Earlier this week he admitted the communication during Friday’s floods had been “dreadful”, revealing even he had struggled to find out what was going on.
He also took aim at Auckland Transport and his own Auckland Council for being too urban-focused after visiting the flood-ravaged rural regions including Puhoi and Riverhead.
In an interview with Mahurangi Matters, he stated he’s an “angry person” because local government isn’t looking after rural communities.
“Everyone at AT and Auckland Council has been so centralised in the city they forget that 60 per cent of the area is rural, but I’m a town and country boy so we’ll redress that. I want to put some rural people on the board,” he told Mahurangi Matters.
“It takes a bit of reminding them that we’re a council for rural areas.
“I’m accused of being an angry person, well I’m an angry person because they’re not looking after people properly.”
Meanwhile, Auckland is in store for more rain later today and Civil Defence is warning there is a high risk of more landslips across the region.
MetService has issued a heavy rain watch for eastern Auckland, the Hunua Ranges, eastern Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula as the storm swings back north.
The rain is expected to start falling in southeastern parts of Auckland from noon.
“We expect showers to develop this afternoon, becoming more frequent this evening, before hopefully easing Friday morning and clearing,” said Auckland Emergency Management.
“There is a high risk of more landslips as a result of the weather we’ve seen, such as the significant collapses on the North Shore and in Āwhitu yesterday.”
Public transport across Auckland continues to be compromised as work begins across the region to clean up damage from Friday’s and yesterday’s weather.