Hard News by Russell Brown


Gushing for Auckland

More than most election campaigns, the race to be the founding mayor of Super Auckland is already becoming about the advisers of the two leading candidates trying to stop their men saying anything stupid.

John Banks' team, mindful of his long history of idiotic utterances, self-aggrandising fantasies and vicious homophobia (not to mention having his evidence dismissed as worthless by a High Court judge), have him so thoroughly locked down that when he appeared at the campaign's first public meeting, in Pt Chevalier last week, he seemed to say virtually nothing material at all.

Len Brown, on the other hand, was well briefed on the area and able to speak knowledgeably about local facilities and assets. He is clearly very good value in such settings. Anthony Hubbard concluded much the same thing in his profile of the two candidates. But, good grief, they'll need to stop him opening his heart to every passing journalist.

Yesterday's Herald on Sunday interview with Carolyne Meng-Yee was spectacularly ill-advised. The auditor general has declined to investigate his expenses spending; he ought to move on. But in conversation with Meng-Yee, he managed to compare himself to Jesus Christ, and offered a string of silly rationales for his actions.

My understanding is that the negative media strategy against Brown (which I'm told is being run by Banks' campaign advisor, Bill Ralston) includes a few nasties that the news media haven't touched and which we, consequently, haven't heard about. They involve his family: hence, the strong emotional response. Well, okay. But it's a tough game and if Brown doesn't get a grip on himself, he'll hand the whole thing to his robotic opponent.

Update: Response from Bill Ralston:

It's not as if Banks has entirely ceased saying stupid things. Someone might want to count the number of times he's promised the use of the Town Hall to groups he's addressed this year, even though he has no power to make such a promise and the venue is inevitably unavailable.

Meanwhile, Banks' claim that he takes "not a dollar" from his council was undone by Radio New Zealand this morning. It turns out that he has been reimbursed for the costs of cellphone use, to the tune of $438.

I'm sure Banks actually did believe he was telling the truth. But the point, surely, is that it's insane to set a benchmark that can only be attained by the independently wealthy. It's a job, not a friggin' hobby.

Banks told Radio New Zealand he takes home none of his $160,000 salary – because he uses it to fund a private media adviser. Apart from the fact that we pay the money as a mayoral salary, not for an off-the-books spin doctor, he is taking the money and using it for private purposes. The idea that there is some difference between this and "taking home" the money is absurd.

If Team Len wants to go on the attack it could focus on Banks' fleet of advisers and sidemen. Who are these people? What do they do? What are their connections? The candidate says he doesn't want to go negative. But he might find that serves him better than continually turning on the emotional gusher in the presence of journalists.

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