WCC isn't dysfunctional, it's just diverse & these are the 5 current councillors we must vote back in
This is an important local body election for Wellington. Faced with a housing crisis, climate change, the glacial progress of Let's Get Wellington Moving, and a host of more mundane problems such as broken pipes we really need a council that is united around a bold, progressive vision of making Wellington an exciting, optimistic and liveable city for decades to come. We need to challenge the short-sighted, conservative interests that are invested in preserving a status quo that serves them well, but leaves thousands of other Wellingtonians struggling, and thousands more potential Wellingtonians unable to even contemplate coming to live here. We should aspire to do much more than just get 'back to basics', which is really just another way of saying let's re-establish and protect existing privileges but do no more.
The Fab 5: Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul & Jenny Condie. Bring 'em back!
Forget the rubbish you've heard over the last 3 years about this council being dysfunctional. What we actually saw back in 2019 was the council flip from a balance of 9 men and 6 women to 4 men and 11 women, and the average age of the council drop dramatically with a couple of the new councillors in their 20s. The current council leans largely progressive overall (reflective of Wellington's demographics) but with a centre-right Mayor, Andy Foster. He won that position by just 63 votes over Labour's Justin Lester largely through having the backing of Peter Jackson, which was in turn motivated by Jackson's desire to influence a single-issue; Shelly Bay. So not an ideal outcome, but a nominally democratic one, and very much a product of our ward-based system. To my mind that's been the single biggest problem this term - a Mayor who is not politically aligned with the majority of his council. I might say some more about this in a future post but I don't think the answer to that problem is to replace one centrist middle-manager with another and then hope the rest of the council drifts in the same politically conservative direction. That might look like a more outwardly functional council but to what end? Three years of unified stagnation branded as 'stability'? Fix the pipes, for sure, but then build apartment buildings, light rail and cycleways on top.
I've been watching this council pretty closely. Yes, there have been some close votes and public spats over the last 3 years but frankly, from what I've seen a lot of that has been about perceptions of power/seniority and an established group of mostly longer-serving councillors struggling to accept an increasing amount of diversity around the council table. In particular, I've seen the older, more privileged, more conservative councillors bristling at the younger councillors not just having their say but doing it with fire. At times I've honestly felt that the word 'dysfunction' has been used to excuse actual bullying with a splash of misogyny, racism and ageism on the side. Put simply, some of the more conservative councillors have been in a minority for three years and on the losing side of a lot of votes. They don't like it, they're not used to it and they're happy to act out about it.
For all that, this council has actually made some great, and perhaps necessarily painful, progress. Let's face it, some of Wellington's issues are so entrenched and so structural that if there wasn't any backlash you'd wonder if we were trying hard enough. If having it labelled 'dysfunctional' is the price of seeing a younger, more diverse, more progressive council kick-back against established interests that would prefer to keep this city locked in a museum then I guess I'd like some more dysfunction please sir.
The current status of the incumbent council is that one has already moved on (Malcolm Sparrow) and another three have announced they're not running again (Fleur Fitzsimons, Jill Day and Simon Woolf). Mana Whenua rep Liz Kelly (Ngāti Toa) will be joined by a rep from Taranaki Whānui and an elected councillor for the new Māori ward, Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Andy Foster has also announced he's only running for Mayor this time. That leaves ten councillors potentially running again (a couple haven't confirmed that yet).
Name recognition and getting the word out are important with local body elections so let's not muck around. Here's the five councillors I reckon must be part of the next council. It's no accident that they are all women, were all first-time councillors in 2019, have all made valuable contributions to the current council in their own ways, and are all now battle-hardened from the last three years. There's also one from each ward which makes it easy to recommend that they all be ranked #1 in your ward (and hey, in case it's not obvious this blog is an unapologetically progressive space where climate change is real and requires action, everybody deserves a warm, dry, affordable home and people should have choices about how they can move around the city safely and comfortably without needing a car. If that's not your kaupapa that's fine but I honestly don't know how you've made it this far). The Fab 5 are:
Rebecca Matthews: Labour, Wharangi/Onslow-Western Ward (FB page)
Teri O'Neill: Labour, Motukairangi/Eastern Ward (FB page)
Laurie Foon: Green, Paekawakawa/Southern Ward (FB page)
Tamatha Paul: Independent, running as Green in 2022, Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward (Website)
Jenny Condie: Independent, Takapū/Northern Ward (Website)
The jury's out on Sarah Free and Iona Pannett. Depending on who else is running in their wards they may still be worth ranking highly enough that they get back in but neither of them will be running as Greens this year after a succession of quite conservative votes over the triennium, largely around housing but also transport. They have also both been on the council for a long time and there's a point at which it has to be asked if some new blood would be better.
I would rank the three remaining councillors (Diane Calvert, Nicola Young and Sean Rush) as low as possible if you want Wellington to make any real progress on important issues such as housing and transport. All three are conservative right-wingers who consistently vote to protect the status quo and wouldn't be missed if they didn't get back in. We can do better and deserve better. Sean Rush should be considered unelectable after he straight up lied about creating an anonymous Twitter account to troll his colleagues and post some pretty questionable content, only telling the truth after it had already been established beyond any reasonable doubt that it was him.
Hopefully, I will outline in a future blog a little bit more about what separates the Fab 5 from the rest but time is tight so better to make these recommendations now, especially when it is so clear cut to me who deserves to get back in. If you have a vaguely progressive bone in your body these are your people [in truth Jenny Condie comes from a blue/green background, which is fine but does mean she occasionally leans towards 'fiscal prudence'. However, she's just so intelligent and such a good communicator (even when explaining a decision I don't like!) that any council would be lucky to have her].
Spread the word folks. This election is a big one so let's not die wondering. And vote! And encourage everyone you know to vote, especially the students, renters and other young people who deserve so much more than just a tired and uninspired 'back to basics' approach. Check whether you're enrolled to vote at your current address here: Vote NZ
Money can't buy you the Wellington Mayoralty, but it sure helps
I had a look at Wellington Mayoral campaign expenses and donations for the last three elections. The candidate who spent the most won every time and also spent virtually all of the $60k cap. It's also very interesting to see who is trying to buy themselves a Mayor via donations.
In 2013 Celia Wade-Brown just edged out John Morrison with both of them spending over $55k.
Here's where the money came from in 2013 (only donations over $1.5k have to be declared). Interesting how big the gap between expenses and donations is for all candidates. There must have been a lot of small, undeclared donations or candidates footing the bill themselves?
In 2016 Justin Lester won by spending slightly more than Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan. A massive $250k was spent overall.
Here's where all the money came from in 2016. Nick Leggett collected twice as much as he was even allowed to spend (wonder where the rest went?). Over $200k was donated to three right-leaning candidates who still couldn't win. There's also a massive gap between expenses and donations over $1.5k for Lester who must have had a lot of small donations or payed some of the bill himself.
In 2019 Andy Foster won (just) by outspending everybody else and using almost all of the $60k cap. Justin Lester's spend dropped from $58k in 2016 to $16k in 2019, while Foster's went from $13k to $58k. At face value incumbency and the Labour brand turned out to be less important for Lester than dollars.
The story's already been well told about where the money came from in 2019. Peter Jackson-related companies donated over $30k to Andy Foster. Only $83k was donated in total and $60k of that was to Foster. Most of the big donors from 2016 completely bailed in 2019. I'm not sure why.
Correlation is not causation but the lesson seems to be that you need to spend big to become Mayor, which is a bit grim. However, it's less clear that big money donors can just buy an election. The difference between donations to right-leaning candidates (nearly $300k over 3 elections) and left-leaning candidates (around $30k over 3 elections) is stark but it doesn't automatically buy success. Andy Foster won in 2019 with heavy backing from Peter Jackson but that may have been more about the association with such a big name, which was widely reported. In 2013 and 2016 the big donors on the right actually wasted their money. It would be fascinating to know how both Celia Wade-Brown and Justin Lester managed to spend over $55k in 2013 and 2016 respectively with less than $10k in donations over $1.5k because that appears to be the winning formula if you don't have a few rich mates.
The bottom-line is that if you support a candidate who's unlikely to have people writing $10k cheques for them, and historically those seem to be the more progressive, left-leaning candidates (such as Tory Whanau in this election), you might want to seriously consider donating them whatever you can afford. They'll probably need lots of small donations to be competitive. And you'll need to do that soon so that they can spend that money effectively over the course of the campaign.
Another problem here is that we only find all of this information out well after the election. Apart from what's reported in the news we really don't know who's bank-rolling who until it's too late. Let's call on all Mayoral candidates to be transparent and voluntarily publish any donations received over $1.5k (including donor name and amount) when they receive them, and definitely no later than Friday 16 Sept when voting documents are posted out. Voters deserve to know who's funding you.