What a difference a year can make

A reflection on the Mayor of Auckland to end 2023 posted on facebook and LinkedIn (please head there for any comments)

At the Helen Clark Foundation Christmas drinks last week I joked with Mayor Wayne Brown that a year ago, at the same event, hardly anyone wanted to talk to the presumed “worst ever” Mayor of Auckland so he didn’t stick around- one year on he is heartily welcomed as the Mayor to defend the city from the new government (or more specifically Simeon Brown)!

Wayne definitely rates himself as a much better Mayor than people give him credit for. It turns out his politics are quite good. It helped a lot that he quickly discovered that the councillors who he thought were his natural allies and backed him because he was ABC (Anybody But Collins) were not the ones who could be relied upon to constructively work to fix anything (the “furious few” who just say no to everything as Simon Wilson calls them). The progressive grouping of councillors have had an extremely tough year but as they’ve gotten used to a very different style of leadership they’ve achieved the wins and taken control of key positions (yay for them!).  Hayden Donnell has captured the shift in power in his piece for Metro Has Wayne Brown gone Woke?

I have to credit the Mayor for his ability to change his mind once properly briefed (a trait unfortunately lacking in many politicians). He changed his view on the Te Hā Noa upgrade of Victoria St and didn’t chop Eke Panuku as he originally threatened. He hasn’t caved into Herald headlines over decisions like the Downtown Carpark redevelopment or reducing greenfields sprawl.

He has moved away from taking soundings from the “saboteurs” and discovered a much wider community of “urbanist” support (he didn’t back the Great North Road or the Pt Chev to Westmere upgrades but he didn’t block them either as the saboteurs and Mike Lee unsuccessfully attempted against the wishes of the community).

Of course I don’t support all his decisions (he was on the wrong side of history with Māori wards when leadership was needed and withdrawing membership from LGNZ was petty point scoring) and especially his plan to privatise the Ports of Auckland but there’s some surprisingly positive things coming in the draft Long Term Plan out for consultation next year like the proposal for a $50/week cap on PT fares. I’ll be cheering on if he really can deliver on “fixing” transport cheaply and quickly especially “low cost opportunities” to deliver the Auckland cycle network as AT has been directed.

None of which is to excuse the Mayor’s problematic behaviour. He has a terrible habit of blurting out inappropriate comments and offensive remarks. Sometimes it can be funny and I don’t think he intends to cause harm (mostly) but unfortunately his un-PC style has resulted in a culture from the top that has unleashed the worst from some councillors and seen excellent council staff leave. There are really decent and smart people in the Mayor’s office who must be hoping for a fresh approach in 2024.