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(C)Mark Tantrum, All rights reservedCelia Wade-Brown and John Mor­ris­on are chat­ting away, affably enough, about cam­paign cars, when an exchange occurs that is unex­pec­tedly reveal­ing. Morrison’s vehicle – a dies­el ute emblazoned with his image – looks like a gas-guzz­ler, but is “far more eco­nom­ic”, he is explain­ing, than his pet­rol car. At this point Wade-Brown – who, fam­ously, cycled to work on her first day as may­or – jumps in, ask­ing: “So how many litres per hun­dred kilo­metres?” Morrison’s reply? “Oh, I don’t fig­ure it out. I just fill it up when it’s empty.”

And there you have it: Mor­ris­on, the plain-speak­ing blokeish type, the sports port­fo­lio hold­er on the Wel­ling­ton City Coun­cil, the prac­tic­al man of busi­ness who pro­nounces Ngaur­anga ‘Nah-rang-a’ where oth­ers might say ‘No-rung-ah’; and Wade-Brown, the incum­bent may­or, the envir­on­ment­al­ist, the Eng­lish-accen­ted ‘Labour–Green’ plan­ner of sec­tors and strategies. Their may­or­al cam­paigns are a con­trast of styles, but also policies. While both prom­ise much on jobs, growth and com­munity, and little by way of ideo­lo­gic­al bite, Morrison’s pitch stresses more roads, deals based on lur­ing busi­nesses from Aus­tralia, and sport­ing events; Wade-Brown wants bet­ter pub­lic trans­port, a green and wired city, and more afford­able housing.

FishHead Magazine shoot: Photograph an interview with Celia Wade-Brown and John Morrison ahead of the council elections. Tuesday August 6, 2013. 4:45-5:30pm @ Nikau Cafe, Wellington. Photo by Mark Tantrum |

It makes for an intriguing race between a man thus far defined by his sports port­fo­lio and a woman who won by the nar­row­est of mar­gins in 2010 and who is, fairly or not, seen by many as hav­ing under­achieved in her first term. While reports of Wellington’s death have been exag­ger­ated, the feel­ing around town, in cof­fee bars and at cock­tail parties, is of a sense of drift, of a city not quite achiev­ing its full poten­tial. So much rests on these two hope­fuls, who, hav­ing spent years around the coun­cil table, know each oth­er well; they also know that, while the may­or­al race has oth­er run­ners, their closest chal­lenger is in the room with them.

They want, at least ini­tially, to show their respect. So Wade-Brown pays trib­ute to Morrison’s work mit­ig­at­ing the visu­al impact of the Basin Reserve fly­over, and he care­fully excludes her from some of his cri­ti­cism of the council’s cur­rent set-up. But he does think that the coun­cil­lors are now divided into blocs, and says, in the first of many sport­ing ana­lo­gies, that the job of the may­or is like being “the cap­tain of the team – you can’t beat the oppos­i­tion on their own. You’ve got to beat the oppos­i­tion by get­ting the best out of your whole team.”

Does that imply that coun­cil­lors who dis­agree with Mor­ris­on are “the oppos­i­tion”, simply there to be beaten? He dodges the ques­tion: “Well, I’ve nev­er been a mem­ber of a polit­ic­al party in my life… I’m not a fan of the sort of ideo­logy to the degree that we’ve got… around the table. I think run­ning a city is com­mon sense. There’s a degree of a prac­tic­al nature about it.” That’s Morrison’s style – not to attack Wade-Brown dir­ectly, but to insinu­ate that she – unlike he, the prac­tic­al man of action – is guilty of encour­aging “ideo­logy”.

Wade-Brown doesn’t rise to that bit of bait, for the moment. Not­ing the council’s tend­ency towards sharply split votes, she says, instead: “To use a sport­ing ana­logy, if I’m allowed on your turf, John, the All Blacks’ win over France made 8–7 respect­able for ever!”

When the laughter sub­sides, Wade-Brown goes on to claim that the coun­cil atmo­sphere was worse under her pre­de­cessor, Kerry Pren­der­gast, when the “bait­ing” of some coun­cil­lors by their col­leagues “actu­ally stopped [them] con­trib­ut­ing”. It’s also said of Wade-Brown that she doesn’t get the best out of people, or man­age the council’s vari­ous fac­tions. She, in response, says she not only gave the key eco­nom­ic port­fo­lio to Jo Cough­lan – not one of her nat­ur­al allies – but that the pair have a good enough rela­tion­ship that “she [Cough­lan] is quite happy to take the dog for the odd weekend”.

FishHead Magazine shoot: Photograph an interview with Celia Wade-Brown and John Morrison ahead of the council elections. Tuesday August 6, 2013. 4:45-5:30pm @ Nikau Cafe, Wellington. Photo by Mark Tantrum |            Wade-Brown does admit, gra­ciously, that, “Kerry had six years as deputy may­or, which was a very good appren­tice­ship, and there are prob­ably things I will do dif­fer­ently when re-elec­ted.” But, less gra­ciously, when she men­tions the alloc­a­tion of the water and waste port­fo­lio, she tells Mor­ris­on: “You weren’t con­sidered for that, because I knew you wouldn’t do any work in it!” These barbs, with their note of con­des­cen­sion, recur through­out the inter­view. While it’s nor­mal, in polit­ics, for the incum­bent to stay aloof, to ignore their chal­lenger, here the reverse is true: Wade-Brown is much more engaged in what Mor­ris­on has to say than vice versa.

Mor­ris­on is a former test crick­eter and a great sport­ing pro­moter, but gets “a bit annoyed because I get labelled as sports and events all the time, but that’s actu­ally my port­fo­lio, so it’s fairly logic­al that I get involved in those things”. But he can’t blame oth­er people for his own web­site, where four of the top five “achieve­ments” he lists are sports-related, includ­ing bring­ing an AFL game to Wel­ling­ton last year. He is, he says, “very pro­ject-ori­ented”, and feels that the coun­cil under Wade-Brown hasn’t been focused enough on its goals. Her defence is that coun­cils have to con­cen­trate on the high-level strategy – “the idea that we focus on the high-tech busi­nesses, that we actu­ally green the infra­struc­ture, and that you man­age to run both the eco­nomy and the envir­on­ment in par­al­lel rather than trad­ing them off.”

(C)Mark Tantrum, All rights reserved

One of Wade-Brown’s key pledges at the last elec­tion was to pro­mote light rail. After a major report in June raised doubts about its cost-effect­ive­ness, she switched her sup­port (although still invit­ing people to cri­tique the report) to bus rap­id trans­it, a kind of enhanced bus lane sys­tem. The report, she says, “indic­ates that you can get gains from bus rap­id trans­it that some of us thought you could get from light rail”. So is it a prob­lem that she has had to go back on a major elec­tion pledge? “I would have loved it if light rail had been the answer,” she says. “[But] as long as we get bet­ter pub­lic trans­port, I’m not too wor­ried what mode.”

Wade-Brown insists that light rail did well to be one of just three options stud­ied in detail in the report, from a short­l­ist of 88 trans­port modes. This prompts Mor­ris­on to sug­gest that a list that long must have included “the horse and cart”; against Wade-Brown’s protests, he then insists, jok­ingly, that “the horse is a form of pub­lic trans­port”. Wade-Brown, not tak­ing the joke, replies, a little tartly, “Unfor­tu­nately, not every­one read the study brief.” On her side of the ledger, she claims suc­cess in get­ting bus lanes through Cour­tenay Place and bey­ond. A pro­pos­al along these lines “was voted out as utu in the pre­vi­ous regime,” she says, adding to Mor­ris­on, “I think you might remem­ber that?” Mor­ris­on remains silent. Not will­ing to let the point go, she then reminds him that he voted for bus pri­or­ity lanes, second time round, to which he responds, rather curtly, “Thank you, madam chairman.”

Morrison’s trans­port plan would be to speed up the planned road­ing works – the Basin Reserve fly­over, the extra tun­nels at the Ter­race and Mt Vic, and the widen­ing of Rua­hine Street – doing them as “a whole pack­age” rather than one after the oth­er. Going along with the New Zea­l­and Trans­port Agency’s plans would help mend what he calls “a poor rela­tion­ship with cent­ral gov­ern­ment”. Wade-Brown dis­agrees with that claim: “I don’t think it’s poor; I [just] don’t think it’s as good as it could be. I think there’s an inev­it­able ten­sion between a Nation­al Party cent­ral gov­ern­ment and a Labour–Green may­or.” She’d like the coun­cil to be a big­ger pro­vider of social hous­ing, char­ging income-related rents like Hous­ing New Zea­l­and does and co-man­aging some of the state hous­ing stock “because I think we’re bet­ter land­lords than they are, on the whole, being more loc­al”; but the government’s cur­rent hous­ing policy is spe­cific­ally designed to over­ride coun­cil autonomy.

Mor­ris­on claims to have the con­tacts to cre­ate a bet­ter rela­tion­ship with min­is­ters, but declines to talk spe­cif­ics, say­ing only: “I’ve got a num­ber of invit­a­tions. I’m very encour­aged by it… my door will be open from day one.” He also, in passing, makes the strik­ing admis­sion that the inner-city bypass, so hotly debated in the 1990s and early 2000s, was in its cur­rent form a mis­take. “[At the time] trench­ing and cov­er­ing wasn’t seen as the thing to do. Now it is the thing to do, and we should have done it.” At this point, Wade-Brown cuts in: “Well, we don’t want to be say­ing that about the Basin, do we? Sorry, you can’t have it both ways!”

They clash again when it comes to cent­ral government’s pres­ence in Wel­ling­ton. Mor­ris­on says, “We’ve got the good for­tune that they’re actu­ally in the same town,” but can’t res­ist adding, “Many people might say that’s not good for­tune.” This prompts Wade-Brown to exclaim that the pub­lic ser­vice is “very import­ant” to the cap­it­al. Mor­ris­on insists it was just “a throwaway line” – but then adds that cent­ral gov­ern­ment is “a huge source of rev­en­ue” for Wel­ling­ton, pro­vok­ing more splut­ter­ing from his opponent.

When it comes to ques­tions on the eco­nomy, Wade-Brown offers Mor­ris­on first go, say­ing, “Would you like to start… with your call centre”, lacing the last two words with sar­casm. Mor­ris­on, as he him­self might put it, straight bats this one. “I’m very dis­ap­poin­ted with some of our oper­a­tions,” he says, “and one or two of our CCOs [coun­cil-con­trolled organ­isa­tions], who’ve had a lot of money to source oppor­tun­it­ies.” In con­trast, he drew on busi­ness con­tacts to per­suade the Aus­trali­an firm Cal­lAct­ive to bring 300 to 500 call-centre jobs to Wel­ling­ton. But that’s not highly paid, high-skilled work, is it? “Actu­ally, it is quite skilled,” Mor­ris­on insists. “They’re actu­ally a shop-front win­dow for a lot of busi­ness. They don’t only run the phones and sell second-hand whatevers.” Ulti­mately, he says, “we have got to tar­get oppor­tun­it­ies. I don’t think we are tar­get­ing them well enough.” What does he have in mind? Well, he says, Wel­ling­ton is about 30 per­cent cheap­er than Aus­tralia, so there’s a “huge mar­ket” in encour­aging yet more Aus­trali­an firms to shift across the Tas­man because of our lower wages and oth­er advantages.

Wade-Brown is “more inter­ested in grow­ing the high-tech and edu­ca­tion jobs… We also have a huge oppor­tun­ity with the start-ups in the social entre­pren­eur area.” Cit­ing the Enspir­al col­lect­ive, which is devel­op­ing pub­lic good-ori­ented, pre­dom­in­antly online busi­nesses, she says there are “a whole lot of small organ­isa­tions that have got the poten­tial to grow”, some of which are now attract­ing invest­ment that is “grow­ing them to the next stage”. But aren’t these com­pan­ies far too small to provide much imme­di­ate eco­nom­ic boost? Her retort: “So was Xero!” In short, Wade-Brown says, “I take prob­ably a more sec­tor-wide and ‘pro­mo­tion of Wel­ling­ton’ view, rather than pick­ing an indi­vidu­al com­pany.” But she admits the two approaches can be “mar­ried up” – or, as Mor­ris­on puts it, “You’ve got to mix it in the for­wards and the backs, you’ve got to do some hard yards up the middle.”

Wellington’s cur­rent long-term plan, ‘Towards 2040: Smart Cap­it­al’, sug­gests it should cre­ate a city that is envir­on­ment­ally friendly, wired with all the latest tech­no­logy, and draws on its high-tech skills and edu­ca­tion. These are not, in the pub­lic mind, Morrison’s greatest strengths. Can he deliv­er on that plan? “I believe so, because, sure, I’m inter­ested in tan­gible res­ults, but even the 2040 thing was high-prin­cipled – it’s all good, I’m not grizz­ling about it – but it is 2040 and there’s the small mat­ter of being – what are we? – 27 years away. We’ve got a bit of time to fill.”

But does he under­stand, say, the envir­on­ment? “Yes… it seems to be accep­ted that only one party [the Greens] cares about the envir­on­ment. To my mind, it’s a giv­en that you look after the envir­on­ment. Des­pite what people may think, I think clean water, you know, all the things that go with a great city, the hills, the har­bour, they are so import­ant.” He’s quite out­doorsy, in a sport­ing sense, he adds, prompt­ing Wade-Brown to inter­ject, “He’s shot a few pests in his time!” (To which Mor­ris­on, judi­ciously ignor­ing the easy joke, responds, “Yes, I have.”)

On the more ser­i­ous sub­ject of earth­quakes, Wade-Brown says the coun­cil has held dozens of meet­ings about dis­aster read­i­ness, “enga­ging with the com­munity… an awful lot more” and cre­at­ing a city far bet­ter pre­pared for the next big one. Under her lead­er­ship, the coun­cil has been advoc­at­ing that own­ers of her­it­age build­ings should get tax exemp­tions for bring­ing them up to the earth­quake code. The coun­cil is also in talks with gov­ern­ment over a “revolving” fund that would help busi­nesses – wheth­er in her­it­age build­ings or not – pay for upgrad­ing. Mor­ris­on is cagi­er about his plans – but only because, as it later turns out, he wanted to coordin­ate a media splash for his innov­at­ive ‘Her­it­age Bonds’ scheme, which would allow build­ing own­ers to raise fin­ance backed by city coun­cil assets, and thus upgrade their properties.

Both can­did­ates express sym­pathy for apart­ment own­ers unable to meet the costs of upgrad­ing, and both insist that people who know­ingly made poor invest­ment decisions should not “free ride” on oth­ers, though neither makes it clear how the two can be dis­tin­guished. Where they dif­fer is on the ques­tion of loc­al dis­cre­tion. Wade-Brown sup­por­ted a pro­pos­al that the city coun­cil should be able to vary the rules set by the gov­ern­ment – the length of time allowed for upgrades, or the stand­ard they have to meet – while Mor­ris­on opposed it; although when she raises the issue, he bats it off, say­ing, “What? I’m not quite sure what she’s say­ing at the moment.”

When it comes to the loom­ing super­city stoush, Wade-Brown wants to get rid of “over­laps” in func­tions between the region­al coun­cil and the loc­al coun­cils, and opposes the two-tier mod­el being put for­ward by super­city advoc­ates – includ­ing loc­al boards with min­im­al powers – because it would “insu­late decision-makers from the pub­lic”. Mor­ris­on has “not actu­ally got ter­ribly involved” in this issue, des­pite its poten­tial to reshape the region’s power struc­tures, “because I don’t think tur­keys should be run­ning around vot­ing for Christ­mas”. That said, he thinks a super­city is “inev­it­able, because cent­ral gov­ern­ment will make that decision”.

By now, the cor­di­al­ity between the two can­did­ates is in short sup­ply. So it seems an oppor­tune moment to ask Mor­ris­on about his opponent’s strengths and weak­nesses. “That’s a tough one!” he responds. “I’ve always liked Celia, I’ve always got on well with her. We’ve differed on a num­ber of things. I just think she’s in the wrong job.” He adds, after a pause, “Nice lady…” (The ‘but’ is left hanging.)

Wade-Brown says: “I think John’s sense of humour is prob­ably his greatest strength. You’re just about to get cross with him, then he makes a good joke! That would be one of his strengths. Weak­nesses? I guess some­times try­ing to do deals rather than be stra­tegic.” On this point, she raises the let­ter, leaked to the Domin­ion Post earli­er this year, in which Mor­ris­on sug­ges­ted that his fel­low coun­cil­lors cut a deal with the council’s then chief exec­ut­ive, Gary Poole, to “decim­ate” organ­isa­tions like Pos­it­ively Wel­ling­ton Tour­ism, in exchange for let­ting Poole keep his job. “I’d have to say that the chief exec­ut­ive let­ter… that would be in my view your weak­ness, threat­en­ing a chief executive.”

All warmth now long gone, Mor­ris­on tells her, “Celia, you’re get­ting a bit excited now.” Point­ing out that the email was “a year old” when it was leaked, he insists that people mis­un­der­stood its essen­tially jokey “tone”, and adds: “I think one of the sad things with Celia to some degree has been the lack of humour in the coun­cil. It’s been a fairly mor­bid place.” Wade-Brown says, “Mor­bid?”, in amazed tones, and he repeats the claim: “It’s a mor­bid place… dour and morbid.”

Who will win Wellington?


Jack Yan While the rivalry between Celia Wade-Brown and John Mor­ris­on may be the star turn in this year’s loc­al elec­tions race, it is far from being its only attraction.

The Wel­ling­ton may­or­alty race alone has some oth­er sig­ni­fic­ant con­tenders, includ­ing busi­ness­man Jack Yan, who polled 7,400 votes when he ran in 2010. Yan is a man of many tal­ents, whose busi­ness interests include con­sult­ing, typo­graphy and the fash­ion title Lucire. In 2010, people who voted for Yan ten­ded to sup­port Wade-Brown as their second preference.

In con­trast, Nic­ola Young draws her sup­port from the centre-right of the spec­trum. A seni­or PR oper­at­ive with close Nation­al Party ties, she is also stand­ing in for coun­cil in Wel­ling­ton City’s Lamb­ton Ward. Her con­nec­tions were instru­ment­al in get­ting Prime Min­is­ter John Key to attend a Wired Wel­ling­ton event she organ­ised in August. Her fath­er, the Nation­al MP Bill Young, rep­res­en­ted the Miramar elect­or­ate from 1966 to 1981.

The oth­er, less fan­cied con­tenders for the may­or­alty include former coun­cil­lor Rob Goulden and Kar­unan­idhi Muthu.

May­ors don’t gov­ern alone, and the makeup of Wel­ling­ton City Coun­cil will be cru­cial. Three coun­cil­lors are stand­ing down – includ­ing left­ist coun­cil­lor Stephanie Cook and centre/­centre-right coun­cil­lors Ngaire Best and Ian McKin­non – while one of Wade-Brown or Mor­ris­on will also depart. Their replace­ments could include, on cur­rent ana­lys­is, two from Young, former Labour MP Mark Peck, prop­erty developer Rex Nich­olls, and prom­in­ent events organ­iser John Dow (Lamb­ton Ward), Mal­colm Spar­row (North­ern Ward) and Mal­colm Aitken (West­ern Ward). Coun­cil­lor Bry­an Pepper­ell is also thought to be under threat from media per­son­al­ity GinetteNicola Young photo McDon­ald in the South­ern Ward. No great shake-up is on the cards, how­ever, so man­aging the coun­cil may come down to per­son­al­ity as much as ideology.

Else­where in the region, the may­or­alty battle in Kapiti looks set to be the spi­ci­est, as under-fire incum­bent Jenny Row­an faces chal­lenges from cur­rent coun­cil­lor K Gurunath­an and new­comers Jack­ie Elli­ott and Gav­in Welsh. No sig­ni­fic­ant chal­lenges are expec­ted to the sit­ting may­ors in Pori­rua, the Hutt Val­ley or the Wair­ar­apa, except per­haps in Mas­ter­ton, where Garry Dani­ell has two chal­lengers for the top job.

For the Great­er Wel­ling­ton Region­al Coun­cil – cur­rently driv­ing the super­city debate under cur­rent may­or Fran Wilde – there are 13 spots avail­able: five in Wel­ling­ton, three in Lower Hutt, two in Pori­rua, and one each in Kapiti, Upper Hutt and Wair­ar­apa. One coun­cil­lor, Peter Glensor, is stand­ing down, while former Green MP Sue Kedgley has thrown her hat into the ring for the Wel­ling­ton con­stitu­ency. Assum­ing that well-known Wel­ling­ton ward coun­cil­lors Wilde, Chris Laid­law and Judith Aitken are returned, either Kedgley’s fel­low Green Paul Bruce or Labour’s Daran Ponter could miss out, if the name recog­ni­tion factor triumphs.

Spots are also up for grabs on the region’s dis­trict health boards, and are keenly con­tested: 23 can­did­ates are vying for sev­en places on the Cap­it­al Coast DHB, includ­ing Kedgley, Laid­law, cur­rent chair Vir­gin­ia Hope, exist­ing Labour mem­ber Dav­id Cho­at, Pori­rua may­or Nick Leg­gett, loc­al coun­cil­lor Helene Ritch­ie and his­tor­i­an Tony Simpson.

How the voting works

Loc­al body elec­tions are run under the sup­ple­ment­ary trans­fer­able vote (STV) sys­tem. Each voter gets to rank all the can­did­ates in order of pref­er­ence: if there are nine can­did­ates, for instance, a voter can give each of them a num­ber from ‘one’ to ‘nine’.

In each ward, can­did­ates will have to get over a cer­tain share of votes to be elec­ted: 3,500 votes, for instance. Can­did­ates that get over 3,500 people rank­ing them as ‘one’ will be elec­ted auto­mat­ic­ally. But can­did­ates often don’t man­age that. So the low­est-placed can­did­ate – the one with the few­est ‘one’ rank­ings – will be elim­in­ated, and their votes will be dis­trib­uted to the can­did­ates who were ranked ‘two’ on their bal­lot papers. This goes on – low­est remain­ing can­did­ates being elim­in­ated, and their votes handed out – until enough can­did­ates have got over the line and are elected.

Under this sys­tem, voters don’t have to rank each can­did­ate, but it is a good idea. Those they rank lower down won’t get their vote unless their most pre­ferred can­did­ates have already been elec­ted or elim­in­ated. And if they don’t rank can­did­ates lower down, they give up their influ­ence over which of those can­did­ates gets elec­ted (if any).


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