Hard News by Russell Brown


Cranks, self-seekers and the mayor

It isn't clear to me whether Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer bothered to attend the opening of the new Panmure Transport Centre on Saturday. But he didn't really need to, given that he could get what he needed -- his name in the paper -- by simply sending a press release to reporters on Sunday morning.

The release declared that "ratepayers should be concerned at seeing a bevy of heavies shadowing the Mayor" at the station opening. Brewer's few minutes typing earned him this exquisitely passive-voiced intro in the Herald this morning:

Questions have been raised about the level of security surrounding Auckland Mayor Len Brown during his first public appearance of the year.

Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer said ratepayers should be concerned at seeing a "bevy of heavies" shadowing the Mayor at the opening of the new $17 million Panmure Transport Interchange on Saturday.

The story repeats most of the contents of Brewer's press as quotes from him:

"I don't believe ratepayers should be funding security guards to surround the Mayor on such occasions. A few hecklers and peaceful demonstrators exercising their democratic right is no justification," he said.

"It's an unprecedented sight to have a New Zealand mayor surrounded by publicly-funded heavies to open a suburban railway station."

You have to read quite some way down the story to discover that the seven security guards (which seems a more accurate term than Brewer's "heavies") at the station were not hired by the mayor's office, but by Auckland Transport, whose spokesperson said it was standard practice for the opening of a station, for safety reasons, and given the presence of a government minister (Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse).

This does seem plausible. The Herald's video of the opening  shows quite a crowd of locals enjoying their sunny day out at another new, modern station for the Auckland rail network:

On the other hand, Brown does look jumpy in parts of the video and it could be that minding him was part of the the security guards' duties. Because some of the handful of people who came to Panmure to protest Brown seem fairly weird.

Dick Cuthbert may have a long history of protest, but I don't think he does his own reputation any credit by following Len Brown around with a placard demanding to know if the mayor is a "sex addict". Another banner, visible in the photograph in the Herald, accuses him of being a "love rat" and features a series of pictures of the mayor morphing into a rat.

Everyone has the right to protest as they wish, but I trust I'm not alone in feeling that these things are offensive, and irrelevant to the issues I want to see addressed in Auckland. Like, say, the modernisation and improvement of the city transport network, which is actually what Saturday's event was about.

Meanwhile, the Herald also published today an op-ed by Brown on his six policy priorities, beginning with "Start building the CRL in 2016." This time, Brewer barely had to wait an hour to get his name in the news. In talking to the media before his own councillors, wrote Brewer in a press release published at 6.05am today, Brown was flouting the "no surprises" part of last month's censure motion.

The Herald was slow getting the piece online and I did wonder whether Brown had indeed got ahead of himself in announcing policy. But you can read the column for yourself: it's simply consistent with the positions taken by Brown and his council for a long time, as Councillor Arthur Anae wearily explained in his Morning Report interview alongside Brewer. It does not, as Brewer's deranged press release claims, show that the mayor is "out of control and frankly doesn’t care".

As Simon Wilson wrote in Metro, Brewer is a policy lightweight who lacks the leadership skills to be the unifying centre-right figure he wishes he was. His press release-driven populism is really all he has. So it's a given that there will be more of it. Ditto from failed mayoral candidate and advocate of Solo Passion Stephen Berry, who is promising 35 more days of the same leading up to the Len Brown Stand Down march (Facebook event page here) on February 22. Oh joy.

It's hard not to feel sympathy for Penny Hulse and the other productive Auckland Councillors: once for the way Brown's stupidity compromised them, and twice and thrice over for the way their work will be impeded this year by the cranks and self-seekers who cannot see past their pursuit of the mayor. Auckland needs to get some big things done in the next three years. We can can only hope the city will be allowed to move on.

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