AucklandAugust 9, 2016

Ultimate power ranks! Auckland’s staggeringly competent and outlandishly incompetent local politicians


Who smashes their opponents with the biggest plan amendments? Who has the most insanely sensible policy platforms? Who has a sixth sense when it comes to acing urban planning? We dusted off the Spinoff’s loyal and 100% objective format to appraise the 20 councillors and mayor – elected by  just 34% of eligible voters – who will shape Auckland’s future in the Unitary Plan hearings that kick off tomorrow morning.

1. Penny Hulse (Deputy Mayor, Waitākere)

Meet the real mayor of Auckland.

While Len Brown gets to use the secret (MAYBE SEX) toilet and wear the seven chains of power, Hulse does a huge amount of heavy lifting when it comes to the day-to-day politics of council. She wrangles her colleagues on votes big and small, ensuring the outnumbered mayor doesn’t suffer a series of democratic down trous. Few people are better at wrangling a crotchety nincompoop into some semblance of compromise.


She’s also good with detail. When a tricky issue crops up, she’s often tasked with fronting the media. Most journalists weep at the prospect. For all her strengths, our in-depth statistical analysis proves Hulse has never delivered a proper soundbite in her life.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST: I worked for Mayor Bob Harvey at Waitakere City Council while Penny was his deputy mayor. She was the real mayor there too.

2. Chris Darby (North Shore)

Nobody tell the people of the North Shore this man is a bike-loving pinko. Somehow Darby, whose passions include catching ferries and appreciating modern architecture, convinced the mansion-dwelling citizens of Takapuna and Devonport to elect him to council. Did he pretend to be Murray McCully? Disguise himself as a refurbished villa?

Whatever trick he pulled, he’s at least 40 times better qualified than some of the sentient museum exhibits at the lower end of this list. He reads every word of the 4000 boring reports that cross his desk each week, and probably has a better understanding of urban planning than any other councillor.  His head glistens with knowledge. His glasses once belonged to Harry Potter.

Auckland Council In High Court Over Bledisloe Wharf Plan

But like Harry, he can get a annoying and superior at times. He also sometimes has to throw the local NIMBYs a bone. He sided with the Miserables of Kohimarama at the worst council meeting of all time in February.

3. Penny Webster (Rodney)

Penny Webster has no right to be this high on the list. She was an ACT MP. Headed up a chapter of Federated Farmers. Maybe knows David Garrett personally. But she’s also been one of Len Brown’s best allies, with the pair finding common ground in their non-insane opinions on things like intensification and public transport.

Their alliance highlights one of the better things about Auckland Council: it’s not divided along party lines. Some of the better councillors are from the right, some of the worst from the left, and vice versa.

4. Arthur Anae

Arthur Anae became the first Pacific Island National Party MP when he was elected to parliament in 1996, which is both an achievement and a damning indictment of National’s record on ethnic diversity.

In council, he’s supported public transport and intensification, represented his community well, and been one of the few minority voices in a mostly snowy white governing body. He’ll be stepping down at this election, and will hopefully be replaced by someone just as reliable.

5. Len Brown (Mayor)

Right now most people remember him for what went on in the Ngati Whatua room and, even more damning, his hauntingly bad singing at public meetings.

Eventually though, his legacy will probably have more to do with goading a hostile Government into backing the City Rail Link, and (probably) passing the Unitary Plan. Keep refreshing that Wikipedia page, Len.

6. Alf Filipaina (Manukau)

A staunch ally for Brown’s public transport agenda, and a good representative for Manukau.

7. Dr Cathy Casey (Albert-Eden)

Casey is our most indefatigable representative, showing up to literally every meeting ever called, tirelessly pushing for progressive causes, and haranguing fellow councillors who fail to listen to their local constituents.

If there was a list of best-voiced councillors, she would indisputably be number one.

Sometimes however she seems to miss the forest for the trees. She voted against the council’s already-inadequate Unitary Plan submission over democracy concerns which were valid, but arguably less important than ensuring people don’t have to live in trees, mud caves, or wherever the Auckland housing crisis is heading next. She also spent a large portion of the recent SkyPath debate arguing for dogs to receive admission, when everyone probably wanted to just vote for the thing and go home.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Cathy Casey is Spinoff writer Alex Casey’s mum, and is extremely good at that job. Alex is taking no part in our War For Auckland coverage. Also, I may die today.

8. Linda Cooper (Waitākere)

She gave a strange quote in this terrible story about Len Brown’s alleged secret sex toilet in 2014, and called a polite man a “judgemental little cock” on Facebook in 2015, but Linda Cooper has been saying good things ever since.

Recently, she voted for Maori to continue to have a say on the Unitary Plan, making the convincing point that council, which has no Maori members, is not very Maori. She supported SkyPath, and will likely vote in favour of the Unitary Plan.

Put that together, and Cooper has a track record of not trying to destroy the hopes and dreams of Auckland’s poor and young people. That’s the best we can hope for in this broken world.

9. Calum Penrose (Manurewa-Papakura)

Think of Calum Penrose as the Ron Swanson of Auckland Council.


In one recent speech on SkyPath, he said he’s “not into walking and cycling”, called the council’s Seniors Advisory Committee the “Committee for the Elderly”, and admitted he’s “narrow minded”. He’s blokey and old-fashioned, like Radio Sport or syphilis.

But he voted for the SkyPath. He voted for the Annual Plan and the Long Term Plan. He’ll probably vote for the Unitary Plan. And between blundering his way around the council’s committee names, he produced the most convincing, personal, and moving speech of the day.

As Jesus said, it’s better to say terrible things at Auckland Council than do terrible things at Auckland Council. Penrose has lived out our Lord’s commandment, and is justified in the sight of the Power Ranks.

10. Bill Cashmore (Franklin)

Who is this guy? His voting record seems good.

surveys & polls

11. Ross Clow (Whau)

Ross Clow once threatened to withdraw support for starting the City Rail Link before 2020, effectively mortgaging Auckland’s future over some community funding. Seems fine otherwise.

12. Sir John Walker (Manurewa Papakura)

The best councillor who is also a famous runner.

13. John Watson (Albany)

Wayne Walker, but less interesting.

14. Denise Krum (Maungakiekie-Tāmaki)

Who is this lady? Her voting record seems bad.

bike trails

15. Christine Fletcher (Albert-Eden)

Woe has befallen Christine Fletcher, the Spurned Mayor of Yore. She paved the way for Britomart. Yet the welps of today refuse to appreciate her for it. She is one of our most ancient and wizened councillors. Yet her colleagues flatly refuse to pay her one half-ounce of respect. Even her natural allies refuse to promise her fealty.

In her mind, she should be a power broker. Instead she wanders alone in the political wilderness, incanting over and over a list of ancient grievances. Occasionally rearing her head promisingly at meetings, only to conjure up the spectre of another indignity.

On the bright side, she was a strong advocate for the CRL.


16. George Wood (North Shore)

Is it bad for a sitting councillor to be a slave to the whims of an evil psychic cat? That’s the question you have to ask when considering the legacy of outgoing councillor George Wood. On one hand, he’s plonked down some extremely stinky votes on urban density and public transport, seems to want to imprison or torture the members of Generation Zero, and was the strongest opponent of the most sensible transport project in Auckland. On the other, he usually seems like a nice guy, and you can’t damn him for being possessed by a change-hating feline.

17. Mike Lee (Waitematā and Gulf)

At first glance Lee seems like a pretty good councillor. He’s in favour of the CRL, and his bio says he’s a campaigner for good public transport. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see he’s an ancient Waiheke sea goblin intent on imprisoning Auckland in a 1950s time prison.

Though he says he’s for developing a modern city, Lee has campaigned strongly against changes to the “leafy suburbs” in his uber-rich Waitemata-Gulf ward. In a stunningly bad blog in February, he called NIMBY insurgency leader Richard Burton a “public hero”, labelled plans for three-storey apartments near the central city an “all-out assault” on the “historic garden suburbs of Auckland”, wrote the word “bloggers”, slammed the public transport he claims to love, and generally railed against the existence of change, population growth and reality itself.

The sad thing is Lee used to be highly respected. These days he’s more like this guy.


18. Wayne Walker (Albany)

Wayne Walker went to see the Paris Agreement signed. By all accounts, he was enthusiastic, cheering for our efficient, sustainable coal-free future.

Two months earlier, he’d railed against increasing density, essentially trying to doom Auckland to keep expanding into outer space, which arguably would not result in a carbon-zero future.

Maybe Walker is pragmatically appealing to the carbon-loving sensibilities of his local Albany constituents. That would make him an opportunist. But there’s evidence he could just be a genuine NIMBY. He recently submitted against increased intensification in the Unitary Plan – but only for his own street.

408. Sharon Stewart (Howick)

Metro editor Simon Wilson described Sharon Stewart as a “sock-puppet” of Dick Quax on our most recent Warcast, which is literally the worst thing you can say about anyone.

He’s right. Stewart is like the local politics version of that time the BBC interviewed the wrong guy live on air, except instead of stopping the interview, they gave her a job and let her keep it for six years.

463. Dick Quax (Howick)

Ranked below Stewart in the same way Emperor Palpatine might be ranked below Darth Vader.


666. Cameron Brewer (Orākei, Hell)

The king of sadness. The duke of the nays. The high priest of negative opinions.

Brewer is retiring at the upcoming elections. He is rumoured to dream of a place in central Government. If his performance in council is anything to go by, those dreams may remain in the dank, mildewy caverns of his mind.

The worst indictment of Brewer is that if anyone should have been able to pull together the right-wing, anti-Len Brown rabble in council, it should have been him. Unfortunately he couldn’t even get anyone to listen to him long enough to muster together a decent band of evildoers.

Keep going!