We need to talk about Paul
Here's why I don't think Paul Eagle is a good candidate for Mayor
With the campaign now in full swing there's really only three serious contenders for Wellington Mayor:
Tory Whanau is the only fresh-face there but looks qualified to do the role and has a very progressive set of policies. Andy Foster has been on the council for 30 years, including being the Mayor for the last three. Paul Eagle was also on the council for seven years from 2010 to 2017 and has been Rongotai MP for the last five years. Paul has a lot of name recognition around Wellington but here's why I don't think that translates into him being a good candidate for Mayor.
First, Paul promised during his 2020 general election campaign for Rongotai that he wouldn't run for Mayor. If he does, and wins, it will trigger a by-election costing more than 1 million dollars. It's not a good start to a Mayoral campaign that simply by running you prove we can't trust you and that you think you are worth taxpayers paying a million dollar premium for, especially when you already triggered a by-election when you left WCC for parliament in 2017.
Going back on your word like this might not matter as much if you're a great leader with a proven track record. For example, all previous cases of MPs who triggered by-elections by leaving Parliament mid-term to become Mayors had already been Ministers in Government (Fran Wilde in 1992, Lianne Dalziel in 2013 and Phil Goff in 2016, all from the Labour Party). Paul is nowhere near that level, however. In two terms in parliament he's never even chaired a Select Committee. In 2020 his list ranking dropped from 34 to 49 and if he didn't have a safe electorate seat he might not even be in the next parliament with a ranking that low (there's a theory that he's low on the list because he has a safe electorate seat but 13 of his colleagues with 'safe' margins of 10,000 or more are ahead of him on the list and the average list placement of Labour MPs with margins of 10,000 or more is 23 so he definitely has a well below average ranking).
Paul has also been on the council before and frankly achieved very little during those seven years except for trying and failing to stop a cycleway from being built. Both Paul and Andy Foster are part of a small group of current and past city councillors who have been on the council for multiple terms and who must accept responsibility for leading Wellington into the situation it is in now. It's not as if Wellington's pipes only became a problem in the last five years so why would we think the same people who let the problem get this bad are now the right people to fix it? [On a side note I would seriously consider not ranking highly any councillor who has already done multiple terms at this election. The Fab 5 of Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jenny Condie, (who are all first-term councillors) are the ones we should definitely vote back in].
Paul is more of a populist and opportunist. An example of this is his handling of the Island Bay Cycleway, which resulted in the Dominion Post accusing him of "pure demagoguery" and "risible sloganeering", and this is the issue where I have had first-hand experience of dealing with him.
Paul Eagle took the side of Island Bay Cycleway opponents
As soon as the cycleway became an issue in 2014 he took the side of opponents, wrongly assuming that there was no support for it. A more community-minded leader might have shown some insight and used his mana to take a more conciliatory approach. Instead Paul relentlessly doubled-down on anti-cyclist rhetoric. During the period 2015-2016 he was pictured repeatedly in the cycleway in a variety of angry poses. The message here is very clear and it's not one of reconciliation. In 2015 he was even one of the founding members of the anti-cycleway Island Bay Residents Association, who later took the council to court for a judicial review that failed spectacularly (Paul was an active member of IBRA until at least 2017. It's not clear at what point he ceased to be a member. In 2022 IBRA finally adopted a neutral position on the cycleway).
During 2015-2016 Paul Eagle spent a lot of time standing in the cycleway looking cross
Some of the rhetoric he used around that time was appalling. Only days before Christmas in 2015 he used the hashtag #WCCGestapo multiple times to refer to WCC staff. Imagine working for the council and two days before Christmas a councillor is comparing you to the Nazi secret police. At the time of writing - nearly 7 years later - the tweets have still not been deleted. If you worked for WCC now would you want him back? Is that the sort of leadership that would inspire you to do your best?
Invoking this sort of rhetoric clearly had knock-on effects. A couple of years later cycleway opponents were emboldened to make tasteless comparisons to the Third Reich and accuse his successor as Southern Ward councillor of being a Nazi.
Incredibly, he even ended up pissing off cycleway opponents by voting for the never-actually-implemented 2017 'Mayor's compromise'. The Island Bay Residents Association Chair described being "gobsmacked" and "cut to the heart" by his "unforgiveable" u-turn.
His opportunism and poor judgement isn't limited to the cycleway either. In April 2015, a full 18 months out from the October 2016 local body elections, he announced he would be running for Deputy Mayor on a joint ticket with Mayoral candidate Nicola Young. By March 2016 he was forced into an embarrassing back-track by Labour. Announcing that he would now be riding Mayoral candidate Justin Lester's coattails into the Deputy Mayor role he admitted "In hindsight I should have gone to the party first".
Another example of poor judgement and questionable behaviour is this 2018 incident where Paul was accused of swearing at a panel-beater and being "entitled, rude and disrespectful". In the Reddit thread where the incident first came to light he was also accused of ringing a constituent to "have a big angry rant" and on another occasion "tearing into an elderly lady" at a meeting. Being "rude and disrespectful" seems to be a common theme in complaints about Paul on social media. This probably wouldn't matter if he was just another citizen like the rest of us but is this really what we want from our Mayor?
He seems especially thin-skinned about people disagreeing with him and is prone to either block or respond in a way that doesn't reflect the higher level of scrutiny elected reps should expect and the huge power imbalance between a politician and a constituent.
Paul's position of power means wide social media reach. Is it appropriate for him to use it to call people "keyboard warriors", make veiled threats about a business's council lease or claim that criticising his position on an issue is the catalyst for "hate" towards his family? (for what it's worth every criticism I've ever made of Paul's position on the Island Bay cycleway and transport generally is still online here and on the Island Bay Healthy Streets Twitter and Facebook. I stand by it all and will leave it to others to judge whether it's legitimate criticism of an elected representative or "hate").
More recently, questions have been asked about the appropriateness of him using Parliamentary resources to run a survey "for electorate purposes only" when he was clearly already preparing a Mayoral bid. He also managed to get himself in a situation where he was basically threatening the organisation he wants to lead with legal action. He denied that his campaign team set up their hoardings early, despite eye-witness statements that they did, and was also instructed to replace a rival candidates hoarding that his team had removed. On their own most of these incidents don't amount to much but taken together there seems to be a consistent pattern of a lack of respect for the rules, a lack of respect for the other candidates and playing a bit fast and loose with the truth.
Paul is running as an independent endorsed by Labour but even the path to that endorsement doesn't seem to have been easy or straight-forward. The Dominion Post reports that Labour "presented him with a rather draconian list of conditions related to endorsing him". When Labour released it's Wellington Local Government Policy for 2022 he immediately distanced himself from it, describing it as "aspirational" and actually rejecting Labour's policy on cycleways. When I emailed Labour General Secretary Rob Salmond asking him to release the detail of Paul’s endorsement and to clarify if he was in any way bound by Labour’s Wellington Local Government Policy he replied "Paul Eagle is running an independent campaign for the Wellington Mayoralty. His campaign’s independent status means he is not bound by Labour’s Wellington Local Government Policy. Instead, Paul is free to promote his own suite of policies for the election. I anticipate there will be good crossover between Paul’s policies and Labour’s policies, of course, because we share the same values". So Paul isn't actually bound by Labour Policy at all which makes you wonder what Paul did agree to in order to get the endorsement. We still don't know.
Paul's own policies focused on getting 'back to the basics' of 'parks, pools, pipes, and potholes' are remarkably conservative and short-sighted. The fact that right-wingers like Diane Calvert and Nicola Young are supporting Paul should be a massive red-flag. They know that it's not Paul's instinct to try and do anything 'too hard' which suits them just fine. Of course the pipes need to be fixed (and the current council has already put in place significant funding over 10 years to do that) but 'back to basics', is really just another way of saying let's re-establish and protect existing privileges but no more. In the middle of a housing crisis and climate crisis we need much bolder and more progressive leadership than that.
Anyway, that's as matter-of-fact an explanation as I can give for now about why I don't think Paul Eagle would be a good Mayor. I'm not saying Paul is a bad person or even a bad politician. But I am saying that he is well short of the standard we should expect from a Mayor and I think we can do better. If you have a progressive bone in your body then you really should rank Tory Whanau at #1. But above all else, whether you agree or disagree, VOTE! And encourage all your family and friends to vote. This is a huge election for Wellington so let's not die wondering.
I realise people may want to share their own thoughts about Paul, which would be welcome, but if you do please try and keep it as factual, respectful and focused on his suitability to be Mayor as possible. I don't want to be accused of being a catalyst for hate again. I'm especially interested in hearing what people think Paul's key achievements are and what particular attributes qualify him to be Mayor. Apart from turning up at a lot of things and being well-known I'm honestly not sure what they are.
7/9/2022 08:15:39 pm
Thanks for a much more coherent précis than I could manage! It matches my own observations pretty well (still #blockedbypauleagle). A friend who has worked with Tory Whanau also said she’s the real deal — super smart, strategic and personable. She’s definitely got my vote and I can’t believe I might have to give a foster a rank too 😩
8/9/2022 12:58:52 pm
I have a friend I respect in common with Paul so I assumed I'd probably like the guy when I met him. But my first encounter with him was at an IBRA meeting where he attended as Deputy Mayor. To deflect criticism directed at himself he denigrated the capability and motives of his own council staff. It was a real wtaf? moment.
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