While the ‘fixer’ poured bubbles in Ponsonby on the back of a thumping victory, the mood was determinedly upbeat in Ōtara, where gin-and-tonics were on the menu.
Mayor-elect Wayne Brown revealed something yesterday afternoon he’d kept firmly under wraps for most of the long Auckland campaign: a broad smile. After a brief speech and media standup, he swapped his Heineken for a bottle of champagne, and walked the Ponsonby Central Sapphire Room playing waiter, fixing a glass for anyone who fancied it, a picture of effervescence, beaming.
A moment earlier, surrounded by family, he said Aucklander had sent “a very clear message to the council and to central government in Wellington”. He had been given a mandate to “fix what is broken and deliver change that voters demand”.
After a brief interruption as he struggled to decline an incoming call on his cellphone, Brown got back into his rhythm, denouncing “bureaucrats in Wellington” and drumming on the podium.
“This is a mandate for Auckland to decide what Auckland needs. Let me be very clear. Wellington’s job is to listen to what Auckland wants, to listen to what we say are our priorities, and to fund them. Not to impose ideological schemes like billions of dollars on light rail, unwanted housing intensification and Three Waters.”
He had a word of praise for Efeso Collins, whom he had defeated by a bigger margin that almost anyone expected, with 144,619 votes to 89,811 as of yesterday. “I’ve come to regard Efeso as a friend,” he said, “and I’d like to work with [him] over the next three years.”
He finished in his trademark grouch style. “I’m having tomorrow off, so don’t bother me,” he said, then after a pause, “that’s it, you can go now.” But he was grinning from ear to ear.
He really is taking Sunday off, and that news a few hours later reached Q+A, where he had been due to appear with John Campbell. “Wayne Brown has pulled out of an interview which Q+A had been told would be going ahead,” producers said. “We understand Brown has cancelled all media appearances tomorrow morning.”
It comes just a few days after another run-in with media, with Brown having been recorded stating that his dislike for Herald journalist Simon Wilson was such that he’d like to print his face out and put it on a urinal.
The self-described “fixer” started delivering on his promises before he’d opened the door of his new office, meanwhile, with Auckland Transport’s chair, Adrienne Young-Cooper, tendering her resignation. “It is clear that the mayor-designate wants a clear runway,” she said. “There are many talented and dedicated people serving the people of Auckland at AT. They deserve respect. I wish the new Council and Auckland Transport all the best.”
Over the course of the campaign Brown had declared he would sack the entire board of Auckland Transport, even if to do so is not strictly within the mayor’s prerogative to do so by executive decree.
Asked by The Spinoff whether that mandate was truly compelling given turnout is tracking for as little as a third of eligible voters, Brown was unswerving. “No government has ever had as large a mandate as I have,” he said.
Half an hour later and about 20km south, Efeso Collins addressed his supporters at the Scorpions rugby league clubrooms in Ōtara. He urged optimism. “We may not have got every strategic decision right during this campaign, but we’ve shown that you can create a movement that inspires a generation of young people when you’re prepared to put their concerns at the centre of the campaign,” he said. “So while we may not have prevailed today my message to you is to not be discouraged.”
Collins was swarmed in embraces afterwards, then headed outside to talk with the press. “I’m going to have a good sleep and a gin and tonic, or two, or three,” he said. After two terms on council, and on a local board before that, this marked “the end of local government for me”, he said. Did he share Brown’s characterisation of a friendship, and would he take up the offer to work with the new mayor, the Spinoff asked. He nodded. “We’ve had a really constructive relationship … I’ve offered him my full support, whatever that might look like, I’m more than happy to work together building this city over the next three years.” He said he’d “keep pushing Wayne on free public transport” and other issues that were important to him.
Asked whether racism had played a part in the campaign, Collins said it had lurked throughout. Unconscious bias was a constant. A focus group had come back with the assessment that “one of my biggest challenges in an electoral campaign is going to be the colour of my skin”. Yet he buoyed by the responses from many. “I hope that young people and young brown kids in particular look at my candidacy and go, ‘Wow, it’s normal now.’”
And what about that other election, next year – was that on his mind? “I have no intention of going for central politics at this stage.”
On Monday, Mayor-elect Brown will begin meeting with council staff, as well as new and returning councillors. Those relationships will be critical in his ability to effect the changes he demands. The departing mayor’s advice for his successor – on Q&A, as it happens – was plainly intended for Brown. “You’ve got to be ready to listen. Never think that you’re the smartest person in the room and you can’t learn from others.”
Additional reporting by Shanti Mathias