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When will the real Wayne Brown emerge?

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By Todd Niall of Stuff

Auckland Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson and Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown.

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown, right, and deputy mayor Desley Simpson.
Photo: RNZ

Analysis – A month on from his election, Auckland’s mayor Wayne Brown remains largely an unknown.

It seems like we have heard a lot from him. But we haven’t. The weekday statements and the release of table-thumping letters are mostly not Wayne Brown, rather, the work of his closest advisor Matthew Hooton.

This is not unusual, few politicians write their own speeches or media releases.

What is unusual in Brown’s case is his limited personal engagement with the media, and through the media, with the public he serves. The “real-life” version of who he is, what he really thinks, and how he expresses it.

From the three occasions he has been available for media questioning, it is clear that Brown’s own language, the way he articulates a position, is not the same mayor portrayed in the more copious written material.

Brown was confident as he spoke briefly with media the Monday after his election, that all the directors of council agencies could be gone within weeks.

That has not happened other than the willing immediate departure of Auckland Transport chair Adrienne Young-Cooper, and then fellow director Tommy Parker after being appointed as the chief executive of the government’s Auckland Light Rail company.

There has been no mention in more recent mayoral statements whether the boardroom clear outs are still a mayoral demand, and there has been no way to ask directly.

Nine to Noon political commentator Matthew Hooton

Wayne Brown advisor Matthew Hooton.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Brown’s inauguration speech sounded nothing like the words of the person who had told almost every election campaign audience that it was “all about the numbers”.

As he read his way flatly through the pages, Brown spoke of the need to leave the city better than those elected found it: “That means environmentally. It means socially. It means culturally. And it means financially.”

Fine words. But were they the mayor’s? The mayor made a habit of referring to the city’s culture and economic organisation as a “travel agency” that should be self-funding.

He spoke of a looming fiscal storm, using the same examples as a similar media column written by Hooton on the same day.

In the well-crafted written statements, the mayor is quoted as hoping to build a Team of 21+, putting aside parochial or political differences to work for Auckland. It is the usual “working for all Auckland” line.

However, at the council’s inaugural meeting, the mayor’s puzzling effort to arrange seating to break up ideological blocs, sparked a tantrum or two from early arrivals, and he seemed at a loss on how to manage it.

In the statement released the day after attending with councillors, briefings from five council agencies and companies, the language had Brown fair swooning over the culture and economic agency Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, which on the campaign trail he had dismissed as a “travel agency” unworthy of ratepayer funding.

Maybe he didn’t know what it did. Or maybe he found out it is ploughing on without the $14 million a year funding for tourism market and events, due to the suspension of Phil Goff’s court-challenged Accommodation Providers Targetted rate. He praised their embracing of his slogan “less is more”.

It is Wayne Brown’s personality more than his policies that will define his mayoralty, his ability to build consensus, relationships and make progress.

At some point, Aucklanders need to see and hear more from their mayor, and less from the wordsmiths who have shaped and managed his messages so far.

* This story originally appeared on Stuff. Todd Niall is the senior Auckland affairs reporter for Stuff.

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