Len Brown has been censured for the texts, the hotel rooms, the inappropriate reference and all the "fallout" of his extra-marital affair with a young appointee. But what's the political fallout going to look like and can he stand again?
It's all just rather pathetic really, isn't it? Yes, I'm talking about Len Brown. From the affair itself to the Auckland mayor's response and on to the council's limited options for censure, pathetic seems to me the best word to sum up the whole shooting match.
Today the council officially and unanimously "censured" Brown, according to Stuff, for "his behaviour during a two year affair with Bevan Chuang". The Herald adds, thankfully, that it was "for failing to declare free hotel rooms and upgrades and the fallout over his two year affair with Bevan Chuang".
He will have to pay some money back and contribute to the EY report costs. A committee will decide how much and – unacceptably – that will be confidential. That's one part of the story that should still have legs; of course Aucklanders deserve to know how much they're paying and how much is the mayor's share.
As Mike Lee said today such a censure is unprecedented and the strongest condemnation the council can make of the mayor. It is also, as Cameron Brewer said, "a wet bus ticket". Such is the sorry state of affairs we're left in. One job should now be on the agenda is to explore other ways that holders of this office can be held to account for misbehaviour, mis-spending and ultimately misleading the public.
The censure comes after the Herald also took unprecedented action, calling for an Auckland mayor to resign. Yet Brown has ridden that out and now has the Christmas break for the immediate pressure to ease. This is as bad as it gets.
So it seems inevitable now that Len Brown will complete his second term as Auckland mayor. The worst has come down on him this week and he has given not a single iota of a suggestion that he might resign. And resignation is the only way that he could wind up no longer being mayor.
Will he be a lame duck mayor, as some suggest? Of course not. Yes he's lost mana but so long as he has the chains the PM will still take his calls, he'll still be able to sign off plans to dig tunnels and all the other projects he has lined up.
The biggest problem will be in dealing with his political adversaries and the councillors as a whole. When it comes to voting he is but first amongst equals and has to build majorities. His good fortune is that the "vision" he spesks of for Auckland is already widely accepted. We can only all give a sigh of relief that National did its u-turn on the CBD rail tunnel before this all came to light. But as it stands now he has a comfortable majority – even amongst the right-leaning councillors – that public transport is key to the city's immediate future and the CBD link lies at the heart of that. Much of the Auckland Plan haggling is done too, so it's hard to imagine the goal of a more condensed city being seriously challenged.
However in other regards his job will be much harder. As that first amongst equals his task is often to build a consensus – or bully opponents into submission. Brown has shown himself to be very skilled in this area, but it will now be much trickier as his power to twist arms is diminished.
Why? In large part because he has no political future. A few months ago he was a man with a strong mandate and the chance of a third term looked very good indeed. Now he's a dead man walking.
Politically, that could have its advantages for the city. Anything he wants to do he has to do in the next two years. The child of this affair could be some mayoral urgency.
But if he thinks he can win again, I fear he's mistaken. New Zealanders are quick to forget politicians' failings, and if it was down to just the affair itself he may have had a shot. But his handling of the public since – his willingness to address the issue quickly aside – has been defined by hubris and, well... I come back to the word pathetic. Yes, the affair is personal. His family is a victim of this circus. But it's a circus of his own making and Brown seems unwilling to face this fact. He also seems unwilling to acknowledge the harm down to the city and the apology he owes to those who voted for him. In repeatedly stressing how personal this all is, he has shown little contrition to those he represents and has failed to ask for their forgiveness. The lack of humility means voters will not be in a hurry to offer him absolution.
When it comes to the hotel rooms, reference and texts, his sins are public not personal. Again, and more inexplicably, his response has been defined by hubris and a lack of self-criticism. In public at least. He has refused to repent to the city, and so the city won't forgive. Hence, all the public I've spoken to – including those who voted for him – have no inclination to vote for him again. He can't be trusted.
In particular, the reference for Chuang and – after the affair was reported – the misleading claim that no free hotel rooms were taken expose at best a lack of judgment, and at worst a lack of integrity.
Should he resign? Perhaps. I'm not at all certain on that, however. My instinct last week – as I said on ZB – was that such a punishment was disproportionate to the crime. He has done nothing illegal and the monies involved aren't substantial. It's not as if council cash was misused or money taken from the mouths of starving Aucklanders. It's just frustrating there aren't other censures the council could take between a strongly worded motion and outright sacking.
Politically, this leaves us with an interesting race in 2016. While there's plenty of time for a new horse to emerge, it looks like one heck of a race between Penny Hulse and Cameron Brewer. The pair will be very conscious of how they behave now that the spotlight is on the council, as in many ways this is the opening salvo of the next mayoral campaign.