Andy Foster and Sir Peter Jackson at Foster's campaign launch (via Facebook)

Cheat sheet: Just who is Wellington’s new mayor Andy Foster?

In one of the biggest surprises of the local elections, Andy Foster has seized the Wellington mayoralty from Justin Lester. In this cheat sheet, we answer some of the big questions about Andy Foster, such as ‘who is Andy Foster?’ 

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Who is Andy Foster?

How can you not have heard of a guy who has been on Wellington’s council since 1992? No, but really, Foster’s career has been defined by burning the longest, rather than burning the brightest. He’s a man about town if the town you’re talking about is the suburb of Karori, but apart from that he has always been a relatively obscure politician. His two previous attempts at running for mayor both ended in limp defeats. However, that’s not the case any more.

What are his political affiliations?

That’s often a tricky one to answer with local body politicians, and Foster is no exception. Long ago he was part of the National Party, and in 2017 ran for parliament with NZ First. But neither are particularly relevant in terms of his council career. He has also had involvement with several infrastructure organisations, community groups, and Zealandia, the wildlife sanctuary on the edge of Karori. He very much leans right, but also has quite strong conservationist credentials.

In case you weren’t aware, Andy Foster is the guy on the right

Who supports him now?

One name you might be familiar with – a filmmaker called Sir Peter Jackson. Foster’s campaign launched to great fanfare with PJ by his side, along with a bunch of Weta employees who were there with various levels of enthusiasm. As you can probably imagine, he had a lot of money to play with during the campaign, raising more than fifty grand compared to Lester, who raised quite a lot less.

Why on earth did Sir Peter Jackson spend so much on him?

Without wanting to get sued or anything, their interests in stopping a controversial $500 million development aligned. That, to those who haven’t been following it, was the interminably turgid saga around Shelly Bay. You could waste a lifetime going through the various twists and turns of the story, but the top line is this – Jackson wanted it stopped, and Foster consistently opposed it around the council table. So rather than writing 6000 word Facebook posts about the issue (yes, that happened), Sir Peter put his money where his mouth was. Incidentally Andy Foster is also a fan of Sir Peter’s stalled Movie Museum idea.

Director Sir Peter Jackson sits in one of the giant chairs from his movie The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug in Beverly Hills December 5, 2013. (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

So what else does Foster stand for?

He wasn’t happy with aspects of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan, and wants to renegotiate parts of it. He wants to build a second Mt Victoria tunnel, with traffic being a significant theme on his billboards around the Eastern suburbs. He has big plans for pest control, and wants to see the Miramar peninsula become predator free within three years. Despite the Shelly Bay situation, he’s not anti-development – among his plans is one to turn a windswept, desolate park in Happy Valley into new housing. In what is probably his least realistic pledge if he wants to accomplish anything as mayor, he wants to slow down the projected rates rises – currently around 70-80% over ten years, to 30-40%.

UPDATE: One of the points in this section has been challenged by one of Foster’s opponents.

Will he have many council allies?

Some, but not a lot. The council that has been elected leans fairly progressive, but again with local government, that’s potentially not such a big deal on an issue by issue basis.

How big was the win?

Not big in the slightest. Last night, with about 90% of the vote counted, Foster had a lead of around 700 votes. There was a lot more counting to do today, but Lester could only cut the lead to about 500 – according to the preliminary results. So even though the final results won’t be known until the middle of the week, enough votes have now been counted to declare a winner.

Turnout was way way down in Wellington City to about 40%, from 45% in 2016. You’d have to assume that hurt Lester with so many voters staying home.

Did anyone see this result coming?

Actually, yes. Many were shocked to see it even go close, given the assumption of Lester holding a strong incumbency advantage. But the well-informed Inside Wellington blog made a call way back in August that Foster was a serious chance to win. Right now, almost nobody else can claim those bragging rights.

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism, click here.

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