Len Brown has been censured for the texts, the hotel rooms, the inappropriate reference and all the "fallout" of his extra-marital affair with a young appointee. But what's the political fallout going to look like and can he stand again?

It's all just rather pathetic really, isn't it? Yes, I'm talking about Len Brown. From the affair itself to the Auckland mayor's response and on to the council's limited options for censure, pathetic seems to me the best word to sum up the whole shooting match.

Today the council officially and unanimously "censured" Brown, according to Stuff, for "his behaviour during a two year affair with Bevan Chuang". The Herald adds, thankfully, that it was "for failing to declare free hotel rooms and upgrades and the fallout over his two year affair with Bevan Chuang".

He will have to pay some money back and contribute to the EY report costs. A committee will decide how much and – unacceptably – that will be confidential. That's one part of the story that should still have legs; of course Aucklanders deserve to know how much they're paying and how much is the mayor's share.

As Mike Lee said today such a censure is unprecedented and the strongest condemnation the council can make of the mayor. It is also, as Cameron Brewer said, "a wet bus ticket". Such is the sorry state of affairs we're left in. One job should now be on the agenda is to explore other ways that holders of this office can be held to account for misbehaviour, mis-spending and ultimately misleading the public.

The censure comes after the Herald also took unprecedented action, calling for an Auckland mayor to resign. Yet Brown has ridden that out and now has the Christmas break for the immediate pressure to ease. This is as bad as it gets.

So it seems inevitable now that Len Brown will complete his second term as Auckland mayor. The worst has come down on him this week and he has given not a single iota of a suggestion that he might resign. And resignation is the only way that he could wind up no longer being mayor.

Will he be a lame duck mayor, as some suggest? Of course not. Yes he's lost mana but so long as he has the chains the PM will still take his calls, he'll still be able to sign off plans to dig tunnels and all the other projects he has lined up. 

The biggest problem will be in dealing with his political adversaries and the councillors as a whole. When it comes to voting he is but first amongst equals and has to build majorities. His good fortune is that the "vision" he spesks of for Auckland is already widely accepted. We can only all give a sigh of relief that National did its u-turn on the CBD rail tunnel before this all came to light. But as it stands now he has a comfortable majority – even amongst the right-leaning councillors – that public transport is key to the city's immediate future and the CBD link lies at the heart of that. Much of the Auckland Plan haggling is done too, so it's hard to imagine the goal of a more condensed city being seriously challenged.

However in other regards his job will be much harder. As that first amongst equals his task is often to build a consensus – or bully opponents into submission. Brown has shown himself to be very skilled in this area, but it will now be much trickier as his power to twist arms is diminished.

Why? In large part because he has no political future. A few months ago he was a man with a strong mandate and the chance of a third term looked very good indeed. Now he's a dead man walking.

Politically, that could have its advantages for the city. Anything he wants to do he has to do in the next two years. The child of this affair could be some mayoral urgency.

But if he thinks he can win again, I fear he's mistaken. New Zealanders are quick to forget politicians' failings, and if it was down to just the affair itself he may have had a shot. But his handling of the public since – his willingness to address the issue quickly aside – has been defined by hubris and, well... I come back to the word pathetic. Yes, the affair is personal. His family is a victim of this circus. But it's a circus of his own making and Brown seems unwilling to face this fact. He also seems unwilling to acknowledge the harm down to the city and the apology he owes to those who voted for him. In repeatedly stressing how personal this all is, he has shown little contrition to those he represents and has failed to ask for their forgiveness. The lack of humility means voters will not be in a hurry to offer him absolution.

When it comes to the hotel rooms, reference and texts, his sins are public not personal. Again, and more inexplicably, his response has been defined by hubris and a lack of self-criticism. In public at least. He has refused to repent to the city, and so the city won't forgive. Hence, all the public I've spoken to – including those who voted for him – have no inclination to vote for him again. He can't be trusted.

In particular, the reference for Chuang and – after the affair was reported – the misleading claim that no free hotel rooms were taken expose at best a lack of judgment, and at worst a lack of integrity.

Should he resign? Perhaps. I'm not at all certain on that, however. My instinct last week – as I said on ZB – was that such a punishment was disproportionate to the crime. He has done nothing illegal and the monies involved aren't substantial. It's not as if council cash was misused or money taken from the mouths of starving Aucklanders. It's just frustrating there aren't other censures the council could take between a strongly worded motion and outright sacking. 

Politically, this leaves us with an interesting race in 2016. While there's plenty of time for a new horse to emerge, it looks like one heck of a race between Penny Hulse and Cameron Brewer. The pair will be very conscious of how they behave now that the spotlight is on the council, as in many ways this is the opening salvo of the next mayoral campaign.

Comments (15)

by Raymond A Francis on December 19, 2013
Raymond A Francis

I think you are correct, let's hope the Mayor realises this it and takes Auckland by the scruff  and makes it a city we can all be proud of

by Andrew Osborn on December 19, 2013
Andrew Osborn

So it seems inevitable now that Len Brown will complete his second term as Auckland mayor

Until the next revelation?

by william blake on December 19, 2013
william blake

Yes I did hear the sound of silence from Penny Hulse.

Not so sure of the minimisation of Len Browns transgressions, the 'upgrades' from sky city are the biggest smelliest rat here. It seems a clear conflict of interest when he is doing business with them as mayor, in his day job.

Gifts from sky city have smurched John Banks and have helped to corrode the National parties conservative image.

Even if the rest of New Zealand think Auckland is a cultural desert it isn't Las Vegas.

by Tim Watkin on December 19, 2013
Tim Watkin

Andrew, it's a fair point. Another revelation would sink him. My assumption is that those stories were verifiable they would have come out by now, so if he makes it Christmas he escapes. But you never know what the Herald's cooking up; now that they've called for him to go they might go quite hard.

William, don't think the upgrades are a big deal, they happen to lots of people, supposedly. It's the free rooms that are the issue – three from SkyCity. Not on.

by Alan Johnstone on December 20, 2013
Alan Johnstone

There are certainly rummours around another lady. I'll not name her, but I'm sure it'll leak out. If true it'd imply a certain pattern. It's true that Len is politically a dead man walking. As always in politics it'll come down to the money, he'll struggle to find people to pony up cash to pay for another run. Will he quit now? Depends if he becomes an block to the delivery of his projects.

Brewer and Hulse? Sorry, but I don't expect the next, or many subsequent mayors to come via the council. The job has become too big for that; serious executive experience is required. The Auckland mayorality will become the preserve of people with cabinet level experience (see christchurch) or top business leaders..

Brewer isn't the kind of person who'll win in Auckland for a long long time, the days of tall white rich men from the inner east being elected are long gone. That may have worked pre 2010 when there was no voters south of green lane or west of the zoo. People vote for people like them, or at least people who they think care about people like them. The demographics are woeful for people like Mr Brewer. He'd be well advised to look for a seat in 2017.

Hulse, perhaps has a chance, but I doubt the labour party organisation will swing behind her, they may want a bigger name with national recognition. Depends on the general election result next year.


by stuart munro on December 20, 2013
stuart munro

Given that the opposition to Brown is fatally tainted with a determination to steal the city's assets, Brown might indeed prove electable if he can stand the heat until the fuss dies down. But his supporters would need to start defending him against what has become a concerted politically motivated attack. As a white heterosexual male he is not a fashionable cause however, and the average Labour activist probably wouldn't mourn him. The problem for them is that the politicians who are due to retire, chiefly Goff, have little that will appeal to Auckland. If Auckland wants a celebrity mayor - the worst and least democratic thing they could want - and the left is to supply one, there are two obvious choices.

They could try one of Labour's recent leadership aspirants - either Grant Robertson or Shane Jones would be an attractive media performer. This would protect the CCOs, but it is not clear they would serve the interests of Auckland especially well.

Or they could back John Minto, who has fully costed, genuinely innovative ideas like free public transport, the kinds of things an enlightened leader ought to be considering to give Auckland a better future.

I'm betting they'll let Len founder and put up a show pony. Short-sighted.



by James Green on December 20, 2013
James Green

The idea of free public transport is certainly an innovative one, but it might be worth looking at the size of the towns in which it has been successfully implemented. Given the variability in the increases seen overseas, and some of the other issues that have arisen, I think it's difficult to claim that it is fully costed. I think the key in Auckland would be that it would need a very, very careful roll out.

by James Green on December 20, 2013
James Green

Couple of other interesting points (lifted from here):

Free public transport may actually reduce fairness - in that PT inevitably won't meet some people's needs, to which they'll be paying a lot towards. This would be especially bad if it meant that the PT was less useful to people with lower wage jobs.

PT may have less innovation, because innovation leads to more provision cost. Doing anything that would increase demand (eg running services later at night, new routes) would increase the cost.

by Tim Watkin on December 20, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alan, I tend to agree with you. I may be well ahead of myself with Hulse and Brewer and the likelihood is that there are others who will emerge... on the other hand, Brewer isn't hanging around just to make up the numbers. And Hulse has done the hard yards at Waitakere and now in Auckland, earning a profile and reputation. My point was that those two will have the next election in their minds, whether or not they end up being electable then.

by Andrew Osborn on December 20, 2013
Andrew Osborn

Tim: My assumption is that those stories were verifiable they would have come out by now...

Unless a local cetacean has more cards to play and intends to reveal then one at a time in order to maximise the damage (and his ratings). 

We'll see

by Fentex on December 20, 2013

Another revelation would sink him? That's pretty pathetic in it's own right isn't it? If what he's done isn't enough to condemn him then why worry that a little added frission would make the difference?

Like usual with these things it isn't the original offence that is the problem, New Zealand can forgive an affair, recognize that it's a private matter. But the lying and hiding of conflicts of interest is what condemns Brown and if he hasn't done that enough so far in anyones opinions the idea that it needs one more demonstration of his dishonesty to finally convince someone maybe he is untrustworthy is a bit silly.

He's done enough to reveal his character, wither you acvknowlegde that and want him gone or you may as well shut up moralising because you don't seem willing to hold a stronmg standard.

by Fentex on December 20, 2013

Wish I copuld go back and edit that to...

He's done enough to reveal his character, either you acknowlegde that and want him gone or you may as well shut up moralising because you don't seem willing to hold a strong standard.

by Rich on December 25, 2013

OTOH he's got two years, if he accepts he isn't going to run again then maybe he can work with other leftish people to find a successor whilst being able to do and say anything he likes without worrying about re-election.

Also, maybe Labour, if elected, will see some sense and bring in indirectly elected mayors and local councils elected by ballot box at the same time as general elections - so we could see existing councils being extended by a year until the 2017 election.

(Also, local boards with rate-raising powers and the ability to take on local regulation and services).


by Peter Matthewson on January 08, 2014
Peter Matthewson

When the news of the affair was first released I was disgusted at the salacious detail publicised by Whaleoil and picked up by the mainstream media. So while not in any way condoning Len Brown's behaviour, I did not want to see him hounded out of office by that sleazeball Slater and the Palino gang. However with what emerged in December I changed my mind and now think Len should go. The clincher for me was that despite having previously advocated concern about problem gambling, he changed his tune and started trumpeting the sleazy Sky City pokies/convention centre deal, while accepting freebies from Sky City. There is a word for that, corruption. According to Transparency International New Zealand is equal least corrupt country in the world. We wnat to keep it that way, Brown must go. 

by Peter Matthewson on January 08, 2014
Peter Matthewson

The other consideration in this sordid story is, if one can put aside moral and ethical considerations for a minute, surely one characteristic we would want in the Mayor is good judgement. To chose as his mistress a floozy who ends up two-timing him with his political opponents is certainly not good judgement. 

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