9 Nov 2015

Len Brown's decision clears way for Goff

12:47 pm on 9 November 2015

Labour MP Phil Goff now has a clearer path should he choose to launch a bid for the Auckland mayoralty after incumbent Len Brown's decision not to run again.

Auckland Council Meeting. Mayor Len Brown

Auckland mayor Len Brown has led the city since amalgamation five years ago, but announced yesterday that he would not be seeking re-election next year. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Auckland mayor Len Brown yesterday told RNZ News that Mr Goff's possible intentions played no part in his decision.

However the timing of the decision was important. Mr Goff will determine whether he is launching a mayoral bid in a fortnight, and if Mr Brown had not cleared the way, both may have faced questions about there being two centre-left candidates.

Phil Goff

Phil Goff is expected to join the electoral race but has not yet confirmed that and plans to declare his hand in a fortnight. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Should he confirm a bid, Mr Goff would become the highest-profile of two declared serious contenders for the election in 11 months' time.

One-time National Party candidate Mark Thomas has already launched a campaign, and the National-aligned Auckland Future ticket is casting around for a candidate with business credentials.

Mr Brown's eight years in two mayoral roles have included the extremes of political life.

His achievements as the first mayor of a unified Auckland are counterbalanced with a public heart attack, scandals about his mayoral credit card, an extra-marital affair and undeclared gifts.

Mr Brown served 12 years as a Manukau City Councillor representing Otara, one of the country's poorest suburbs, and one in which he spent part of his upbringing.

He stepped out of politics for three years after narrowly failing to oust long-serving Manukau City Mayor Sir Barry Curtis in 2004, before succeeding Sir Barry, who retired in 2007.

Difficult times

Mr Brown was in office only seven months before suffering a heart attack while at a public function, returning to work after bypass surgery.

The government-driven amalgamation of Auckland's eight local bodies in 2010, pitched left-leaning Mr Brown into a bitter mayoral battle with Auckland City's centre-right mayor John Banks.

It was in the heat of that battle that opponents revealed details of $579 in personal spending by Mr Brown on his Manukau mayoral credit card.

Mr Brown delivered an emotional apology and appeal to Manukau City councillors, telling them he had been "through a crucible".

The setback appeared not to harm a strong pan-Auckland election result in which Mr Brown defeated Mr Banks by 65,000 votes.

It was a campaign in which he laid out the key goals for his mayoralty, making a start on the downtown rail loop known as the City Rail Link, and making it "the world's most liveable city".

Mr Brown's first term included gaining government backing for the City Rail Link, although several years later than hoped for, and completion of the city's strategic Auckland Plan.

A relatively uneventful 2013 election pitted Mr Brown against poorly-funded restaurateur John Palino, in which he won with a 55,000 vote margin.

Watch video of Len Brown speaking about why he won't be standing again, and the effect of his extramarital affair.

Voters were unaware that in the final days of that campaign, Len Brown already knew opponents had information about a two-year extra-marital affair he had conducted, at times on council premises, with younger advisory board member Bevan Chuang.

Graphic detail of their liaison was revealed on the Whaleoil political blog website, and Ms Chuang later claimed she had been exploited by members of the Palino campaign, who wanted her to go public before voting closed.

In his only media interview following the revelation, Mr Brown told TV3's Campbell Live programme he would not resign.

"Nearly half of people who voted said they wanted me as mayor. I've loved that job with a passion and I love this city and I want to stay in that job, so yes, it is my intention to stay as the mayor."

The affair was be a turning point in Len Brown's popularity.

Councillors demanded an inquiry into whether the affair had involved ratepayer spending. It found while there had been no inappropriate use of council resources, Mr Brown had received 64 hotel upgrades and nine free rooms from casino operator Sky City, which it valued at $39,000.

Mr Brown agreed to pay $40,000 towards the $238,000 cost of the report by consultants EY, and survived an attempt by five of his 20 councillors to pass a vote of no-confidence in him.

Len Brown's legacy

Politically Mr Brown has achieved much of what he campaigned on in 2010. Early works begin on one section of the City Rail Link towards mid-2017.

The project gained government backing in 2012, but with a start date for major works, five years later than the council plans.

Mr Brown persuaded the government to enter into negotiations on a long-term agreement over which transport projects would be jointly funded.

Under his stewardship - though not due to him alone - the amalgamation of Auckland was executed without major glitches.

Rates rises hit some parts of the city hard during two rounds of revaluations, but on average increases were below those pre-amalgamation.

The council passed in its first-time Auckland Plan, a detailed 30 year vision for the city, required under its founding legislation.

It also finalised the proposed Unitary Plan, a development blueprint that included higher density housing, which is now being weighed up by an Independent Hearing Panel. That process is the country's largest-ever planning exercise.

The biggest transformations have involved transport, with the completion of the electrification and upgrading of the region's commuter rail network, and introduction of an electronic travel card.

Preparatory work is beginning on the underground City Rail Link, which Mr Brown championed in his 2010 mayoral campaign, in the face of, at best, a cool response from the government

But while ticking off most of his political goals, Mr Brown's affair and the style of his leadership cost him essential support.

Relationships soured between Mr Brown and many of the councillors during the second term, with even previous supporters accusing him of being self-centred, and failing to maintain relationships.

Even amongst those who speak in the harshest terms about him, there is acknowledgement that in the long run his political achievements will in future years be well-regarded.

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