Wayne Brown’s big moment

Wayne Brown could – should? – find himself leading the pack in the Auckland mayoral race after an opinion poll is released on Wednesday evening. The third of a series of articles watching the frontrunners.

He’s not as fluid, verbally or physically, as he once was but Wayne Brown at 76 has positioned himself for a strong run home in the race to succeed Phil Goff as Mayor of Auckland.

He’s outlasted his two main rivals on the centre-right of politics, Leo Molloy and Viv Beck, who recognized a split vote among them might hand the job to Labor and Greens-backed councilor Efeso Collins.

In a much-awaited poll due out on Wednesday evening, Brown will be hoping to have added large chunks of that pair’s previous support to his second-placing to Collins in the last big poll, and to have built himself a buffer that could convince voters he can win

A lead in one poll does not make a mayor, and another poll is likely from a media outlet this weekend. Auckland voted the Labour-aligned candidate – admittedly with higher profile contenders – into the mayoral office four times out of the four elections held as a super city. Collins has been the front runner throughout this race, has campaigned assiduously and has a volunteer base and social media game that has helped make him the person to beat.

If Brown doesn’t nose ahead, or blast ahead of Collins tonight, that may carry his own comment on his prospects. He has the centre-right voting demographic by default now (other than Craig Lord, who had 7 percent support in the August poll) and failure to consolidate those preferences would be pretty disheartening for his camp and motivating for Collins.

In all likelihood, the Ratepayers’ Alliance/Curia poll should give the former Far North District Mayor a lead if it was conducted after the air cleared following Beck’s withdrawal last Friday morning. The Ratepayers Alliance is an allied group to the right-wing Taxpayers Alliance and persistent critic of Auckland Council.

Because Beck pulled out so late, her name is on the ballot papers now being completed in homes across the region, so the possibility of a rump vote for her could also challenge opinion poll findings.

Brown is the sort of character who would have expected to be ahead in any case. He has half-joked on the candidate meetings’ stage about the others targeting him because “that’s what happens when you are ahead.” He’s noted he’s the only one who has been a mayor before (although those two terms in the north ended in controversy and comprehensive defeat).

He doesn’t claim to know it all, but on the campaign trail and in his past roles chairing public bodies such as Vector, the Auckland District Health Board and Transpower, he gives the impression that he knows most of it, and it’s all pretty easy to sort out, whatever ‘it’ is.

Brown is a mansplainer to men, as well as women. He offers simple fixes for eradicating red road cones, for bus technology to get through red lights, for the port company to pay vast annual dividends to the council, for cycleways to cost far less per meter to build, for trains to replace trucks to carry containers out of downtown Auckland, for cuts to council executive roles and salaries rather than cuts to services to the public, for the City Rail Link project to come clean on its so-far undetermined extra cost exposure, and for two more Council Controlled Organizations Eke Panuku Auckland and Auckland Unlimited to meet their maker.

Too bad if the experts in finance, engineering, bus networks, town center redevelopment, events and tourism promotion and international infrastructure negotiations, and the KC who reviewed the CCOs just this term of the council roll their eyes and mutter that it isn’t ‘ easy to do these things. Or if Collins, who’s on the inside as a councillor, or Goff, watching on as the leader who didn’t have the Brown gifts to make such difficulties easy, try in vain to explain why things have been done the way they are.

Politically, Brown pushes on, labeling naysayers and their ideas dumb, councillors as lacking focus on the numbers or the understanding of what they mean or worst, policies or officials as being from Wellington. It is an approach that has cut through at a certain level. And Brown’s campaign is firmly targeting a middle-aged, home-owning demographic rather than aiming to be all things to all people.

A property developer, he has known financial success and completed many a project. He won’t detail what properties he owns across the city he wants to lead but says there aren’t many. (At one candidates meeting he did say he owned “a few” buildings at Paerata Heights in Franklin).

He’s not young to take on the job. The mayor he most admires, Sir Dove Myer-Robinson, was 79 when he ended his two-stint, 18 years in charge of the much smaller Auckland City Council.

But Brown has a hint of the ‘Robbie’ about him. It wouldn’t be unimaginable for the former surfer to do a Robbie and appear bare-chested in public, political virility on show.

Brown isn’t a particularly fluid speaker, let alone orator, and doesn’t seem to care much for the statesmanship or political diplomacy the mayoral role historically demands. He’s admittedly no baby kisser and (while he leaves this bit unspoken) by temperament no ass-kisser.

“I probably intend to do more change than you’re expecting,” he told one crowd this month.

A boost in this latest poll would validate his pre-campaign qualitative market research, a project that asked how Aucklanders might react to his messages – “if they cared about the sort of things I care about”.

But if the poll that matters on October 8 doesn’t go his way, Brown doesn’t want Aucklanders to come running his way later if things go wrong. “Then, don’t ring me up please.”

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