Wellington mayor Tory Whanau’s admission she has a drinking problem means she risks losing the trust and confidence of the city’s residents, a councillor says.
She told the Herald she had received several hundred messages of support in the last day and was “deeply thankful”.
“I hope others who may be struggling with alcohol issues can see that there is support for you out there also. That you can still seek help and still commit to your passions, work, family, friends in a way that is meaningful.
”We are complex, layered people and deserving of love. I am here for all of us.”
She had hinted last night that video of her drunken behaviour may be circulating in the public domain.
Councillor Nicola Young said today that Whanau was “clearly not well, which is sad, but Wellington can’t go on hold because of her health issues”.
”Mayoralty is not a job which you can do with addictive issues and I suspect that’s why she’s been largely absent from council recently,” Young told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning.
Young said that there had been a big increase in meetings being run over Zoom.
”Her behaviour has become an embarrassment for the city,” said Young.
”I’m getting clear feedback that she’s lost the trust and confidence of Wellingtonians.”
However, if Whanau’s future as mayor would be put to a vote, Young said she suspected she would get a vote of confidence.
”Greens and Labour have the majority around the table.”
Young said she did not have a very close working relationship with Whanau.
”She’s kept her distance from councillors.”
Meanwhile, a second councillor said Whanau’s drinking problem explained why she has been missing in action and said they were concerned she might not be able to hold office.
It’s understood the latest incident occurred at Wellington’s Havana Bar late in the afternoon of November 18, with media reports that she and another person were “visibly” intoxicated.
Councillor Tony Randle said the issue has a major effect on her ability to do her job.
He said Whanau cancelled councillor-only meetings just weeks ago.
“I am sympathetic about Tory’s drinking problem, and it may explain her being increasingly distant from many councillors. But she has a huge job as mayor, especially when our city has so many major challenges,” said Randle.
“I am worried we will be making decisions about the city’s Long Term Plan and District Plan when the city’s leader is distracted by personal issues and not communicating with all councillors. Wellington will suffer.”
He said he hoped Whanau would be able to turn her personal life around, for the sake of herself and for all Wellingtonians.
Deputy Mayor Laurie Foon said she supported Whanau.
“We need more real people like Tory to be in politics. And real people, have flaws that they should be able to deal with in their own way. I will continue to support Tory because she is a good person who works hard for our city and people- flaws and all. And that hard work will continue.”
Councillor Rebecca Matthews said Whanau is a mayor Wellington can be proud of.
“I think we can be ever more proud of her being open and honest about the problems she’s having,” she said.
“I just wish actually more people in public life would be a bit honest about the struggles that they face because these are hard jobs and whatever problems you have, they do come to the surface.”
Matthews said she had not seen any evidence of the mayor’s drinking problem affecting her work.
“I have seen her be professional and a decent leader. These are not issues that have come into the workplace that I have seen but none of us is perfect.”
This is a hard job and any normal person would struggle in such a difficult role and with such a high level of scrutiny.”
Councillor Teri O’Neill, who also made headlines this week for putting up posters featuring the new Government as genitalia, said she was in support of Whanau too.
“Anyone with lived experience of a family member that’s struggled with mental health or addiction knows how hard this is, let alone a recovery with a public microscope on every move you make.
I know that helping people to get better requires the support of the community and loved ones. Absolutely I’m supporting Tory.”
Havana Bar co-owner Potti Wagstaff told the Herald he was not aware of any incident and was celebrating his birthday that night with a bar full of guests.
Whanau and her friends were also in the bar enjoying themselves and having a laugh, he said.
”What anyone does under the roof of Havana stays under the roof. I’m sure she wasn’t on major duties and the stress she is under I would want a drink or five.”
Potti was concerned about the council focusing on fixing the city’s infrastructure.
”That’s all the common person wants and not vanity projects,
”Covid has reordered how we operate in the city and everything needs to be reassessed as of today.”
Former mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown says Whanau is Wellington’s biggest cheerleader and can still do the job, but she needs more support.
Wade-Brown, who held the office from 2010-2016, told TVNZ’s Breakfast the challenges of the job were worse than she had expected despite having been a councillor before she became mayor.
”You have your day planned and then six other things happen and the media and the public want to see you deal with everything.”
Trying to unite council was “impossible”, she said.
“It’s a bit like asking Christopher Luxon to not just unite three parties but to get Te Pāti Maori, Greens and Labour on the same page.”
However she had gone home to a supportive partner, which Whanau did not have.
”Tory’s on her own and I think that adds a level of stress,” she said.
Wade-Brown said Whanau had been open and honest about her problem with alcohol, and our culture was “two-faced” about drinking.
Both she and Whanau are Green Party members.
She had high praise for Whanau, saying she was “the city’s biggest cheerleader”.
”I think she can do the job. I think she will just have to find the support she needs.”
Whanau said that to her “great embarrassment and shame”, the latest incident seemed to have been recorded.
“I sought counsel from my friends, family and colleagues and have since sought professional help.
“I am not a career politician, and leadership positions in public office are not built for regular people who may have struggles with addiction, mental ill health, or any other illness that has stigma attached. We have seen this play out with career-ending moments from politicians across the political spectrum in recent times,” her statement read.
“I am a flawed person, but I care deeply about this city. I will continue to represent the hopes and aspirations of my local community and I will do so with the compassion and care of those around me and with the professional help required.
“I would like to say to others struggling with alcohol issues that you can seek help and still commit to your passions, work, family, friends in a way that is meaningful. We are complex, layered people and deserving of love.
“I would appreciate respect and care from the media whilst navigating this period of sobriety and professional support.”
Whanau’s admission yesterday is the second alcohol-related incident to blight her mayoralty.
In July she admitted she was “tipsy” when she skipped the bill at a popular restaurant after dining with a friend.
Whanau said she “strenuously denies” claims about drunken behaviour including asking a waiter “do you know who I am?” after being cut off.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB at the time she admitted she was tipsy while dining at the Old Quarter in Dixon St on Friday evening, but said accusations about her conduct and being refused service are “simply false”.
She told Wellington Mornings’ Nick Mills the failure to pay the bill was a “miscommunication” between friends, and she was “mortified” by the mistake and she apologised to the restaurant.
Whanau said she was “tipsy” and “merry” after a hearty dinner and drinks with a friend, but was in no way drunk. She told Mills she had not been wearing makeup, which may have contributed to why people thought she was drunk.