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Leo Molloy, Viv Beck, Wayne Brown and Efeso Collins. Photo: Tina Tiller. Imagework: Jason Stretch
Leo Molloy, Viv Beck, Wayne Brown and Efeso Collins. Photo: Tina Tiller. Imagework: Jason Stretch

Local Elections 2022August 12, 2022

Closing time for Leo Molloy – and a new shape to the Auckland mayoral race

Leo Molloy, Viv Beck, Wayne Brown and Efeso Collins. Photo: Tina Tiller. Imagework: Jason Stretch
Leo Molloy, Viv Beck, Wayne Brown and Efeso Collins. Photo: Tina Tiller. Imagework: Jason Stretch

Third place in a new poll suggested people ‘didn’t want to go to Leo Land’, said Molloy. He’s now eyeing up 2025, while the dynamic in the remaining field shifts substantially.

“I haven’t fucking died or anything,” said Leo Molloy. “It’s not a funeral.” It wasn’t a funeral, but it did look a bit like a boozy wake. Speaking at his pub-style campaign base, a beer swinging from his hand – and replaced with a fresh one half way through – the self-described “hospo legend” elaborated on the reasons he had decided earlier in the day to quit the contest for the Auckland mayoralty. 

It was the poll what did it. The third Curia survey for the Ratepayers Alliance put him third, behind Efeso Collins and Wayne Brown. “Last night I woke up three quarters of the way through the night, like I invariably do,” he said. He was stewing on those numbers. He was “mortified … we just didn’t see that coming.” He had believed voters from across the spectrum would “want to come to Leo Land”. It wasn’t looking that way. 

So Molloy convened a morning meeting with his advisers and the decision was made. In “the stare-down of life” they had hoped “Viv Beck would wave the white flag, but she didn’t.” Although, he stressed, it may be better considered “a suspension rather than a resignation”. Turning to point to a Leo Molloy hoarding, he said: “Remember this, he’s running again in 2025.” The term ahead would require an economic repair job, he said. Someone else could do the “three years of misery” and then “in 2025 the city might be ready for someone like me, who’s arguably a more charismatic type.”

Another factor for the timing today was the noon deadline for nominations. If he had withdrawn any later, his name would have remained on the ballot – to withdraw any later would be ethically wrong, he said. 

Molloy had seen key members of his team depart in recent weeks – campaign chair June McCabe and media manager Kate Gourdie – but that was not a factor in the decision, he said. Nor were there “no skeletons in my closet. Sorry to disappoint you.”

Molloy’s approach at times played out like an extended pub yarn. At times it tipped over into ugliness – in saying of Collins “If anybody sights Efeso, he’s an endangered species – there’s space on the wall”, and the appearance on Guy Williams’ show New Zealand today. He was no stock reactionary, however. He staunchly defended, for example, the role of co-governance. Reflecting on the campaign, he said he had “no regrets” but accepted he could “at times be a bit obnoxious” and he would have been better to adopt his “softer, approachable” aside. Rather than the bar-brawl firebrand, the “fireside chat Leo”. In 2025, he wouldn’t be doing the Guy Williams show, he said. "I think I've learnt a lot."

Molloy has resisted endorsing any of his previous rivals, saying only that he didn’t want Collins to win. He did, however, indicate that he would be open to “negotiations” with anyone seeking his nod. 

Molloy’s exit – and the poll that prompted it – change the shape of the Auckland contest. Brown, who brands himself “The Fixer”, said it left Aucklanders with a “clear choice” and he was the “clear alternative” to Collins, offering “a new proactive approach to fixing Auckland and getting it moving again when I am mayor”.

Brown, Far North mayor from 2007 to 2013, is centering his message on frugal spending and low rates. “Candidates need to be honest with the people of Auckland about council debt,” he said. “There is no money lying around waiting to be spent on ‘nice to have’ pet projects. That money comes directly from ratepayers.” 

Brown’s promotional approach so far has focused on advertising that seems almost old-fashioned: print ads in the Herald and radio spots on Newstalk ZB. The reality is that those audiences tend also to be the ones who vote in a city that mostly doesn’t. The last super city election had, remember, 35% turnout.

That will be the challenge for Collins – can he turn his support into votes? Collins, who has not responded to a request for comment, has registered 10%, 17% and 16% in the three polls to date. He has a lead in today’s poll of three points over Brown and seven points over Beck. The critical question is which way those Molloy numbers fall. It’s not inconceivable that Collins picks up some of them – he and Molloy were both pushing free public transport. More important for Collins is coming up with another policy approach that gets the cut-through that transport pledge achieve. 

Viv Beck, meanwhile, is dismissing the idea that the contest now morphs into Collins versus Brown. The withdrawal of Molloy rendered the poll “irrelevant”, she said. "It’s a three-horse race and is still wide open. No candidate can take anything for granted.”

Beck had enjoyed fresh expressions of support today, she said. She too said voters now faced a “a clear choice”. But it was a different one to that diagnosed by Brown. “I am the only true centre-right candidate that will stand up for Auckland and ensure we do not have another Labour controlled mayor,” she said.

The full list of Auckland nominations, for mayor, council and local boards, will not be revealed until later this evening. A spokesperson indicated there had been a large number added to the list in the final hours before the noon deadline.

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