It would be reasonable to expect the Mayor of Auckland and his team to be working constructively, positively and respectfully with Councillors to land an annual budget ahead of a crucial vote on Thursday. In my experience this is how previous Mayors and the majority of councillors have got things done in the service of Auckland. After all, Wayne Brown doesn’t appear to have majority support for the centrepiece of his budget proposal: selling Council’s Auckland Airport shares.
The threats, bullying and gratuitous abuse flowing from Wayne Brown’s own “straight to the bone style of communication” won’t be helping. Even less helpful: the Mayor’s messaging is in the hands of the guy who was responsible for running nasty, manipulative attack campaigns on behalf of the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance (ARA) during last year’s local government election.
In May last year, when Josh Van Veen was appointed campaign manager of the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance, he wrote an email to all councillors introducing himself adding that he looked forward to engaging “fairly and honestly”. It was quickly apparent he wasn’t true to his word, perhaps because he was under the spell of Jordan “Dirty Politics” Williams (founder of the Taxpayers Union and Auckland Ratepayers Alliance) who had previously run a number of misleading campaigns, including against Phil Goff’s emergency budget in 2020. (In Van Veen’s first statement for the ARA he claimed incorrectly that AT is spending $6,200 per household on cycleways)
Leading up to the local government election in October 2022, Van Veen was responsible for a steady stream of offensive and deceptive material targeting mayoral candidate Efeso Collins, Councillor Desley Simpson and a handful of progressive councillors who refused to sign the “ratepayers pledge“
Now as the Mayor’s press secretary, Van Veen needs to work with all Councillors including those he labelled the “clowns” during the election. Far from clowns, these councillors and the Deputy Mayor are part of the group on council Wayne Brown quickly discovered who are the most pragmatic, principled and hard working.
In a further irony, those who did sign the ratepayer pledge and who benefited from ARA’s attack campaigns against those who refused, are now being called “financially illiterate” by the Mayor (Even as a candidate, Wayne Brown had the commonsense not to sign the pledge. No elected representative should pre-determine a position on rates before having all the facts in hand via the budget process and the results of the public consultation).
Ideally it shouldn’t be necessary to be reminded of the dirty politics of the election campaign. I am sure my friends on council would prefer to focus on finding a way to work positively with Wayne Brown and his office. It is particularly painful to revisit the ARA’s material (only a few examples shown here) especially as the ARA campaigns led to blatant racist attacks on Councillor Josephine Bartley that continue to this day. She is singled out for an unacceptable level of abuse that no other councillor faces for asking legitimate questions about the budget and speaking out on her position.
Mayor Wayne Brown has created a “clown show” himself. He could have argued on the facts and played the ball but chose (so far) to use intimidation and the nasty tactics of the ARA. It would not be surprising if his choice of Press Secretary is making it harder to find a constructive way forward. It really needs to be asked to what end is the Mayor continuing with the threats and bullying and what will it take before it is shutdown as unacceptable?
In the meantime, the best way to stand up to bullies is to make sure they don’t get their own way. There isn’t a budget crisis that necessitates selling off the airport shares. There are always alternatives (for example A Better Budget for Auckland team have provided two updated options) . The pressure will be on the Deputy Mayor and thoughtful Councillors to seek a more decorous, rigorous and respectful process to reach a good outcome on Thursday. I am sure they will cut through the Mayor’s “clowning” around and nastiness to achieve the best for our city.