Hard News by Russell Brown

The Race

And so, unsurprisingly, Dick Hubbard vaults to a lead over John Banks in the Auckland mayoral race by doing little more than putting his hand up. Labour - which, just quietly, was never very passionate about Bruce Hucker in the first place - gives the cereal king the tacit nod. And I claim my prize.

Hucker's comments in the Herald's poll story this morning strongly suggest that he will bow out of the contest, and deliver most of his votes to Hubbard.

The Green Party, a constituent of the centre-left City Vision ticket, has shown no sign as yet of backing Hubbard, which is ironic, given that Green candidate Jeremy Hall was last week dumped from the City Vision ticket on account of his freelance funding of a poll that showed Hucker running third.

The infighting is much worse on the other side of the spectrum. Rejected Citizens & Ratepayers candidate Troy Churton has formed a Centre Right Independent ticket in the Hobson ward, and another former CitRat is behind the City Residents & Ratepayers ticket in Eden Albert, which is associated with Christine Fletcher's campaign. Now, CitRat candidate Jane Arnott (standing in western bays and therefore in little danger of being elected) has slammed Banks and praised Hubbard. Banks' divisiveness is beginning to haunt him. Rodney Hide must be disappointed.

Fletcher has slumped back to 9.6% support in the new Herald poll - less than the 14.6% Hucker got in Hall's poll, a level she said should prompt Hucker to withdraw and give her a clear run. But she insists she's staying in the race. Unlike Hucker, she has no council candidacy to fall back on, so a withdrawal would doubtless be traumatic. But, frankly, the city could do with an emphatic result.

One would hope that Hubbard, on the other hand, has been spending some time developing a more detailed policy platform and perhaps recruiting some campaign talent. It's all very well to declare that you're not going to put up a forest of billboards, but a famous name will only take you so far.

Meanwhile, the new Metro magazine is flat-out advising its readers not to vote Banks, making its case with a list of 11 reasons written up by Gilbert Wong (from the current council's orgy of spending on consultants to the rates rise, the feckless dumping of Auckland Airport shares and the Eastern Corridor fiasco) and prefaced with more preposterous mayoral blather:

Amid the hubbub of conversations at Mecca [Banks] tells me, "This Auckland City Council has achieved more than any council in living memory."

Gobsmacked, I produce a mental list of what other councils in other eras have achieved: the Domain, the Aotea Centre, the restoration of The Civic, the Central Library, the Viaduct, and, for that matter, potable water and a sewerage system that doesn't dispose of raw effluent by dumping it in the Waitemata.

But when I look up again, the mayor has already moved on.

The magazine also puts up a 'Metro For Mayor' campaign, which includes an apparently realistic plan for "a better V8 street race" (on vacant land near Auckland Airport). Hubbard will presumably be studying it closely. With Leo Koziol's recent list of policy proposals here, there is no shortage of new ideas for Auckland.

Oh, and with respect to number 20 of this month's Metro 20 Questions ("How long until Russell Brown becomes editor of the Listener?"): not for quite a while please, I've got enough on already …

Meanwhile, the hints Josh Marshall has been dropping about a Pentagon scandal have taken shape with the news that Larry Franklin, an analyst in the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and a confidant of Paul Wolfowitz, is being investigated over leaks of classified intelligence on Iran to Israel. The Italian military intelligence agency also appears to have been a player. Marshall is positing it as Iran-Contra II.

Juan Cole is on the story too, noting the belief of former CIA officer and NBC analyst Larry Johnson that the notorious Niger uranium forgery that was used to press the case for war in Iraq was forged by Israeli intelligence as part of a strategy, undertaken with the support of key Pentagon personnel, to eventually move on to Iran. It's really quite alarming, and ought to hurt Bush like hell, but, then, a lot of things ought to hurt Bush like hell and don't seem to.

And finally, Ben Barnes, a former leader of the Texas House has 'fessed up to arranging a soft National Guard posting for George W. Bush to keep him away from being drafted to Vietnam (Bush's account of events has been rather different). Greg Palast posits that it was a $23 million bung that kept Barnes silent for so long.