Fea­tures

What did Len Brown do for Auck­land? And what should new mayor Phil Goff do now he’s re­placed him?

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents -

“Len Brown achieved far more than he was ex­pected to as mayor … but he be­trayed his col­leagues and brought pub­lic ridicule not just on him­self but on his of­fice and the wider coun­cil.” THE SINGING RHINOCEROS,

On the morning of Mon­day, Au­gust 15, Len Brown walked from the coun­cil build­ing on Al­bert St across to the Town Hall. It was win­ter and windy, and he wore a big woollen scarf, but no over­coat, and he was in an ef­fer­ves­cent mood. It was the very last day of de­bates on the Uni­tary Plan (UP), the cul­mi­na­tion of his po­lit­i­cal life. A good day to be Len Brown. He knew that when he left of­fice in just a cou­ple of months, he could do so with a sense of great achieve­ment.

It wasn’t the sin­gle big­gest event of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer — beat­ing John Banks’ mil­lion-dol­lar cam­paign to win the first su­per-city may­oral elec­tion in 2010 prob­a­bly takes that ac­co­lade. But it was a sat­is­fy­ing full stop.

Brown was a mayor who raised him­self up, and his city too, with vi­sion, skill, tough­ness and tri­umph. And brought him­self low with hu­mil­i­at­ing ab­sur­dity, po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal iso­la­tion and, worst of all, a my­opic in­abil­ity to un­der­stand the sense of con­fu­sion, in­ep­ti­tude and squan­dered op­por­tu­nity he left in his wake.

The com­fort­able view is that his­tory will look more kindly on him than we do now. Per­haps. Len Brown achieved far more than he was ex­pected to in his six years as Auck­land’s mayor and he left the city far bet­ter than he found it. He also be­trayed his col­leagues, brought ridicule not just on him­self but on his of­fice and the wider coun­cil, and lost the re­spect of many who worked around him.

He spent his last weeks in of­fice telling any­one who would lis­ten that his “per­sonal problems” made him a bet­ter mayor. That’s delu­sional, which in it­self was a weak­ness Brown was al­ways sus­cep­ti­ble to. His sex scan­dal ru­ined his abil­ity to act ef­fec­tively. Be­cause of it, when it came to the task of re­mak-

ing Auck­land as a pro­gres­sive city of the 21st cen­tury, the task he had once cham­pi­oned, he be­came in sev­eral key re­spects an im­po­tent by­stander.

Should Brown re­ally have been so jovial that win­ter morning? Just one day ear­lier, with­out warn­ing, Brown had got out a big knife and stabbed his loyal deputy, Penny Hulse, in the back. Well, he might as well have.

They had met ear­lier, as was their cus­tom dur­ing the days of the UP de­bate, to agree on their strat­egy. Hulse had been Brown’s deputy for the en­tire six years of his may­oralty, never once speak­ing out against him, de­spite be­ing per­son­ally ap­palled at his be­hav­iour. She was the per­son he re­lied on to get ma­jor­ity sup­port for his pro­gramme.

She was also, as chair of the Auck­land Devel­op­ment Com­mit­tee, the coun­cil­lor prin­ci­pally re­spon­si­ble for steer­ing the UP through the long and of­ten har­row­ing po­lit­i­cal pro­cess. It was Hulse, not Brown, who fronted up to most of the an­gry pub­lic meet­ings, who worked most closely with coun­cil of­fi­cials on the de­tails and wran­gled the lo­cal boards and other coun­cil­lors.

The is­sue that Au­gust morning had been af­ford­able hous­ing. The vote was about whether a par­tic­u­lar pro­vi­sion of the UP should in­clude a quota for ma­jor de­vel­op­ments. They were on the same side: both wanted more af­ford­able hous­ing built in the city. But Hulse be­lieved that goal was al­ready safe­guarded and would not be fur­ther helped by an ex­tra clause. Brown, it turned out, wanted to make a ges­ture.

In their morning meet­ing, he had not told her that. She thought he had her back. But in the coun­cil de­bate he made her look like she didn’t care. He re­duced her to tears. It had been shap­ing up as a good day not just for Brown’s coun­cil lead­er­ship, but for Hulse’s po­lit­i­cal skill and nerve in shep­herd­ing the whole thing to fruition. He de­stroyed that.

When it was over, he was not only un­re­pen­tant, but seemed un­aware of what he had done.

Brown was elected to great fan­fare in 2010. He was the first mayor of the new su­per-city, which com­bined eight coun­cils into one to form the largest lo­cal body in Aus­trala­sia. He wasn’t ex­pected to win. The amal­ga­ma­tion had been driven by Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Min­is­ter Rod­ney Hide, with strong sup­port from the rest of the Na­tional-led gov­ern­ment and with most op­po­si­tion com­ing from var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal forces on the left. In­clud­ing Brown, a Labour Party mem­ber in his first term as mayor of Manukau City. At that stage, he didn’t have higher po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions: he was the mayor of Brown­town, “down with the brown”, a man who loved and felt deeply con­nected to the south.

Then they went and took it all away. No more Manukau City. It was hard not to see his bid to be­come mayor of all Auck­land as the only course open to him if he wanted to re­main mayor of Manukau.

He un­leashed his po­lit­i­cal smarts. Bob Har­vey, the very pop­u­lar mayor of Waitakere, wanted the new may­oralty, and so did Mike Lee, chair of the Auck­land Re­gional Coun­cil. Har­vey was a vastly ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cian and for­mer Labour Party pres­i­dent, and Lee was the

One day ear­lier, with­out warn­ing, Brown had got out a big knife and stabbed his deputy, Penny Hulse, in the back.

de facto leader of the left across the wider Auck­land re­gion. But Brown fi­nessed them both by se­cur­ing the sup­port of the Labour Party, and with it the ser­vices of an in­valu­able or­gan­is­ing ma­chine.

Har­vey and Lee were fu­ri­ous. They both knew there could be only one cen­tre-left can­di­date and did not run against him. But nei­ther man ever came to re­spect him.

Brown’s first in­au­gu­ra­tion was full of in­spi­ra­tional speeches and per­for­mances by choirs and other cul­tural groups. The Town Hall cer­e­mony, in­vented for the oc­ca­sion, hon­oured the tra­di­tions of the city and its cos­mopoli­tan moder­nity, and Brown was like a kid in a sweet­shop through­out. And that seemed right: his en­thu­si­asm was in­fec­tious.

The new coun­cil­lors, on the other hand, looked at first blush to be an un­govern­able bunch of en­ti­tled elders from the old coun­cils. Many had them­selves been may­ors or chairs of im­por­tant com­mit­tees; none was in­ter­ested in be­ing kept in line through a cau­cus sys­tem.

On the right, there were sev­eral coun­cil­lors, in­clud­ing Chris­tine Fletcher and Ge­orge Wood, who plainly thought they could do a bet­ter job of mayor than Brown. His left flank, fea­tur­ing the brood­ing Mike Lee and San­dra Coney, was sim­i­larly open to at­tack.

And yet Brown dis­pensed com­mit­tee chairs and other favours with aplomb. In choos­ing Hulse as deputy, he shrewdly opted for a soft-spo­ken but very de­ter­mined Westie, who for good mea­sure had been Har­vey’s deputy at Waitakere.

Brown wasn’t a col­lab­o­ra­tor, not in the wider sense: af­ter they were all elected in 2010, it took him six months to get around even to meet­ing the chairs of the lo­cal boards. But with the help of Hulse and his fi­nance com­mit­tee chair, the for­mer Rod­ney mayor and Act Party MP Penny Web­ster, Brown cre­ated at that coun­cil ta­ble some­thing quite re­mark­able: a con­sen­sus for his “live­able city” pro­gramme based on mod­er­ate coun­cil­lors of the left and right.

In 2012, he and Hulse steered the Auck­land Plan through the coun­cil. It’s the foun­da­tion doc­u­ment of the new com­bined city, set­ting out a 30-year vi­sion, a dec­la­ra­tion of how good Auck­land could be. It’s easy to for­get that un­til at least 2010, the pre­vail­ing mood in Auck­land was cyn­i­cism.

That same year, Brown es­tab­lished the coun­cil’s first Long Term Plan, a 10-year dec­la­ra­tion of spend­ing pri­or­i­ties. He be­gan the po­lit­i­cally del­i­cate pro­cess of uni­fy­ing rates and over­saw the largely suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion of the eight old coun­cil op­er­a­tions into one new one.

He got the gov­ern­ment to take him se­ri­ously. The turn­ing point for that came a year into his ten­ure, with the Rugby World Cup — al­though it didn’t seem like it at the time.

The open­ing day was a fi­asco. Trans­port sys­tems col­lapsed, most peo­ple couldn’t get close to the en­ter­tain­ment and there were enor­mous, restive crowds on Quay St, Queens Wharf and lower Queen St. Be­ing in the mid­dle of that seething, con­fused mass of peo­ple was scary: panic seemed just one mis­judged shout away and if it had hap­pened, the out­come would have been dis­as­trous. The gov­ern­ment blamed Brown per­son­ally, al­though the en­tire op­er­a­tion had been con­trolled by Rugby World Cup Min­is­ter Mur­ray McCully.

Brown was im­pres­sive: he sucked up the bul­ly­ing with­out com­plaint, got every­one to learn the right lessons from the day and, as the event un­folded, he

made sure Auck­land en­joyed the party. He was, in other words, a proper leader. The gov­ern­ment took no­tice.

He’s un­flap­pable, Len Brown, and it’s a core strength. “Aw look,” he liked to say, “you win some and you lose some, but you set your­self steady goals and you keep mov­ing for­ward.” He spoke in clichés, al­most al­ways, but those clichés did ac­cu­rately de­scribe what he did.

He was an un­usual politi­cian: a cau­tious in­cre­men­tal­ist who found him­self caught up in a much big­ger trans­for­ma­tional move­ment. And en­joy­ing it. He rubbed shoul­ders with in­spi­ra­tional peo­ple all over the city and told them he loved their cre­ative, change-mak­ing ideas. So­cial work­ers and sports coaches in decile 1 schools, go-ahead shop­keep­ers and res­tau­ra­teurs, artists and ur­ban de­sign­ers: he got a real buzz out of be­ing with tal­ented peo­ple with good ideas.

But then he would go back to his of­fice, his head full of those ideas, and do noth­ing about any of them. The city is full of peo­ple who thought Brown was go­ing to help them do some­thing great and it just never hap­pened. The flip side of Brown’s un­flap­pa­bil­ity, it turned out, was in­ac­tion.

Auck­land churned with cre­ative en­ergy. Open­ing up the wa­ter­front, the cre­ation of thrilling pub­lic spa­ces and en­gag­ing down­town ar­chi­tec­ture, the ex­tra­or­di­nary rev­o­lu­tion in pub­lic trans­port, the enor­mous boom in restau­rants and cafes and bars, the gen­uine re-emer­gence of cy­cling, the South­ern Ini­tia­tive and

The city is full of peo­ple who thought Brown was go­ing to help them do some­thing great and it just never hap­pened.

all the pro­grammes de­signed to lift up the south: in short or­der, Auck­land had be­come a very ex­cit­ing city.

Brown didn’t in­vent it. The “live­able city” project is not unique to Auck­land — in fact, it’s the norm all over the world. But he did play an im­por­tant role. He was our happy cham­pion.

And then the un­think­able hap­pened.

The news that Len Brown had been hav­ing an af­fair with a mem­ber of the coun­cil’s Eth­nic Peo­ples Ad­vi­sory Panel broke just days af­ter Brown’s tri­umphant re-elec­tion in Oc­to­ber 2013. Not just the news; cour­tesy of blog­ger Cameron Slater, we learned ev­ery sor­did lit­tle de­tail.

Brown brazened it out. His sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion, also a big oc­ca­sion in the Town Hall, was dis­tin­guished by a con­stant cho­rus of “Shame! Shame!” It wasn’t the dig­ni­taries and com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives shout­ing at him, it wasn’t even peo­ple out­raged at the scan­dal. The dis­rup­tors were pro­test­ers from Glen Innes fu­ri­ous that the coun­cil was stand­ing by while state-house ten­ants were be­ing evicted and their homes carted away on trucks.

In the weeks that fol­lowed, how­ever, there were con­stant protests about the scan­dal. Small groups fol­lowed Brown to ev­ery event: some of them con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians who were gen­uinely of­fended, oth­ers far-left ac­tivists like Penny Bright, who can­not have cared two hoots about the mayor’s sex life but jumped on the band­wagon any­way.

I thought he would re­sign, but what I hadn’t re­alised is that he has the hide

of a rhinoceros. He stayed in of­fice and steadily sank from sight. He dropped his Mayor in the Chair ses­sions, reg­u­lar events in which he went to sub­ur­ban shop­ping malls to hear what­ever it was peo­ple wanted to tell him or ask about. He’d loved those ses­sions, but not when they took on the char­ac­ter of a pil­lo­ry­ing in the stocks.

His diary shrank. Schools, busi­ness groups, eth­nic groups — who wants to hear a speech by a phi­lan­der­ing nitwit? And he stopped lead­ing from the front on the big project of trans­form­ing the city.

He took some leave, but when he came back, it hardly made a dif­fer­ence. Brown was lost at sea through­out 2014. The job of run­ning the coun­cil fell to Hulse and the new chief ex­ec­u­tive, Stephen Town.

There’s a view that it didn’t mat­ter much, be­cause the im­por­tant work had been done. That’s pa­tro­n­is­ing to the work Hulse did, and be­sides, it’s sim­ply not true.

The year 2014 was the year of the great pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on the draft Uni­tary Plan, which pro­posed an end to Auck­land’s post­war plan­ning phi­los­o­phy, based on sub­ur­ban ex­pan­sion, in favour of cre­at­ing a more com­pact city. Win­ning the pub­lic to that vi­sion wasn’t easy, and night af­ter night at pub­lic meet­ings with cit­i­zens wor­ried their sub­urbs would be de­stroyed, it was Penny Hulse who led the charge. She has de­scribed some of those meet­ings as the hard­est mo­ments of her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, but she kept go­ing. Brown hardly ever ap­peared.

Mean­while, Town set about re­form­ing the way the coun­cil worked. His fo­cus was the busi­ness op­er­a­tions, the coun­cil-con­trolled or­gan­i­sa­tions (CCOs) that he re­ferred to col­lec­tively as “the fam­ily”.

It was a big task: there are some very dif­fer­ent ideas about di­rec­tion, pri­or­i­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties among the CCOs, es­pe­cially be­tween Auck­land Trans­port and Wa­ter­front Auck­land (which has now merged with the coun­cil’s prop­erty com­pany to be­come the city­wide agency Panuku Devel­op­ment Auck­land).

Town’s fam­ily ta­ble, a co-or­di­nat­ing com­mit­tee of the heads of the CCOs, did not have any elected mem­bers and did not re­port to Brown or the coun­cil. In ef­fect it was, and still is, a par­al­lel power struc­ture to the of­fice of the mayor and to the gov­ern­ing body of the coun­cil. That says a lot about how weak Brown had be­come.

Worse, while Brown was ex­cluded from im­por­tant de­ci­sion-mak­ing, he was also con­fused about what to do when he did find out what was go­ing on.

In late 2014, Ports of Auck­land Ltd (POAL) was granted con­sents to ex­pand fur­ther into the Waitem­ata Har­bour. De­spite mas­sive pub­lic in­ter­est in the is­sue, no one told Brown. And when he did find out, he equiv­o­cated, blus­tered a bit and then sup­ported the move. It took a pri­vate ac­tion by the lobby group Ur­ban Auck­land to get the High Court to de­clare the con­sents were im­prop­erly is­sued.

In Jan­uary 2015, Auck­land Trans­port an­nounced it was plan­ning to in­tro­duce light rail — at the very time the coun­cil was con­sid­er­ing a new Long Term Plan that did not in­clude light rail.

Brown didn’t know about AT’s plans and op­posed them when he did find out. It was an as­ton­ish­ing episode. How was AT pos­si­bly able to make such a ma­jor an­nounce­ment with­out in­volv­ing the mayor? How did the coun­cil not hold Auck­land Trans­port to ac­count when it found out?

And how was it that Len Brown, cham­pion of the live­able city, did not want to pri­ori­tise light rail any­way?

As Brown’s sec­ond term wore on, his iso­la­tion grew worse. The coun­cil bought an of­fice block down­town with­out do­ing the due dili­gence re­quired to iden­tify that ma­jor re­pairs were needed. Brown was out of that loop. Just be­fore the elec­tion, AT re­vealed the cost of the City Rail Link would be higher than ex­pected. Again, it was news to Brown.

Even since the elec­tion, coun­cil agen­cies have con­tin­ued to keep the mayor — now Phil Goff — in the dark: POAL ap­plied for a con­sent to put a three­me­tre-wide walk­way 65 me­tres into the Waitem­ata with­out talk­ing to him.

Plainly, there are se­nior of­fi­cials who be­lieve the mayor should not be con­sulted or ad­vised on im­por­tant de­ci­sions. What role has Stephen Town played in that? Let’s put it this way: he should not have let it hap­pen and Brown should not have al­lowed him to let it hap­pen.

Mean­while, the coun­cil and the gov­ern­ment made slow progress on hous­ing, with much less con­struc­tion in their “spe­cial hous­ing ar­eas” than was ex­pected. The coun­cil’s favoura­bil­ity rat­ing with the pub­lic fell to just 15 per cent. The re­cent elec­tions were con­ducted in a gen­eral at­mos­phere of cri­sis, with the pre­vail­ing view that Auck­land was a mess.

What a con­trast from just three years ear­lier, when progress on the live­able city and Brown’s in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment of op­ti­mism and wide­spread sat­is­fac­tion.

That’s the real im­pact of Brown’s sex scan­dal: his fail­ure to lead from the front for the past three years has led to a col­lapse in pub­lic con­fi­dence. The mood of the city has changed. Brown re­duced his goals to stay­ing in the job and win­ning the key num­bers, and he achieved those aims. But the col­lat­eral dam­age was se­vere.

He did, to his credit, get the gov­ern­ment to ap­prove the City Rail Link. At the start of his first term, that looked like an im­pos­si­ble goal and it’s an im­mense achieve­ment he should be proud of. Did it war­rant his stay­ing in of­fice when in so much else he was so in­ef­fec­tual?

I’d say no. By the time of his sec­ond term, Brown had al­ready put in place the con­di­tions to win gov­ern­ment sup­port for the CRL. An­other mayor would have been able to build on his good work in that first term to get the job done.

And the home­less cri­sis? The coun­cil didn’t cre­ate it and it couldn’t, on its

A good mayor fronts in a cri­sis. A mayor with his heart in South Auck­land, you might think, would have been all over the hous­ing cri­sis.

own, fix it. But when the is­sue blew up, Brown was nowhere to be seen. A good mayor fronts in a cri­sis. A mayor with his heart in South Auck­land, you might think, would have been all over this one.

Brown could have gal­vanised more sup­port more quickly, and thus made a ma­te­rial dif­fer­ence. He could also have chan­nelled the much wider sense of com­mu­nity frus­tra­tion that such things hap­pen in our city. A leader who be­comes a con­duit for pop­u­lar de­sire to make things bet­ter is do­ing their job well. But Brown was al­ready on his way to re­tire­ment. Men­tally, he had checked out.

What ex­actly was his sin? Adul­tery? For most peo­ple, that’s surely not an is­sue. Politi­cians are en­ti­tled to a pri­vate life, they’re al­lowed to make it messy and on the whole it’s none of our busi­ness.

Abuse of his po­si­tion? He was a pow­er­ful man who got sex­u­ally in­volved with a young woman whose role on the coun­cil he had a say in. Yes, def­i­nitely that.

Abuse of the of­fice? Oh Len, not the Ngati Whatua Room. That hurt, too.

Abuse of his coun­cil credit card? An in­quiry — which Brown was forced to help pay for — found no ev­i­dence of fi­nan­cial mis­con­duct, al­though he did ben­e­fit from ho­tel-room up­grades. Un­wise, per­haps, but not il­le­gal.

Be­ing stupid? How did Brown not un­der­stand the risks he was tak­ing? Did he think he was im­mune to scan­dal? Did he not grasp that sooner or later he would be found out? Or did he just not even think about it? Which one of those answers doesn’t make him look like an id­iot?

Be­ing ridicu­lous? If Brown had been re­vealed as hav­ing an af­fair, with­out us learn­ing the sor­did specifics, he would prob­a­bly have sur­vived with his rep­u­ta­tion largely in­tact. Cameron Slater, who pub­lished the story on his Whale Oil blog, knew that. It was the de­tails that de­stroyed Brown be­cause they were so ap­palling vivid. He em­bar­rassed us.

Fun­da­men­tally, his sin was to get caught. He re­vealed him­self in­ca­pable of do­ing what most peo­ple do with po­ten­tially hu­mil­i­at­ing ab­sur­di­ties in their pri­vate lives: keep them hid­den.

I’ve seen Brown speak­ing at a black-tie event in the Aotea Cen­tre, more than two years af­ter the scan­dal broke, where guests stood about in their gowns and jew­els and kept up a snig­ger­ing com­men­tary about “Pants-down Brown”.

Dis­cre­tion is a mea­sure of com­pe­tence, a mark of fit­ness for pub­lic life. Brown failed the dis­cre­tion test, and that’s what made him de­spised.

The coun­cil de­bated a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence, which would not nec­es­sar­ily have forced him from of­fice be­cause the mayor is ac­count­able to the vot­ers, not the other coun­cil­lors. But it was a means for coun­cil­lors to tell him pub­licly what they thought.

It was a tense de­bate. As they spoke, many of the coun­cil­lors made it clear they had in­deed lost con­fi­dence, but would not vote for the mo­tion be­cause they were pre­pared to al­low Brown the dig­nity to de­ter­mine his own fate. They voted not to hu­mil­i­ate him fur­ther, on the as­sump­tion that he would do the de­cent thing and re­sign any­way. Brown, with that rhinoceros hide, sat tight.

He was good with peo­ple. Liked to chat, and liked to ser­monise, too. His MO was to adopt the style of what­ever re­li­gious leader was ap­pro­pri­ate to the group. I’ve seen him do evan­gel­i­cal pop­ulist, doc­tri­nal Catholic, lib­eral Angli­can, Bap­tist pas­tor, bor­na­gain fun­da­men­tal­ist, Mor­mon leader, Des­tiny fire­brand. Around the coun­cil

ta­ble he was the pa­tient but slightly ex­as­per­ated pa­tri­arch. He must have thought, in sim­pler times, that he would one day be known as Fa­ther Brown.

The re­li­gious as­pect of his pop­u­lar base makes his re­fusal to re­sign all the more sur­pris­ing. Not the fact of the af­fair — sex­ual hypocrisy is a com­mon fail­ing of re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives — but the way he brazened it out.

It was one thing for Brown to stare down the tut-tut­ting of the eastern sub­urbs — they didn’t vote for him and never would — but quite an­other for him to stand in front of the con­gre­ga­tions of South Auck­land and pre­tend he had not let them down.

How did he cope with their dis­may? He ig­nored it. De­spite his deep and gen­uine con­nec­tions to the city’s Pasi­fika, Maori and mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, when it came down to it he be­trayed their val­ues and de­cided he could live with that.

It’s not a good thing in pol­i­tics to have the hide of a rhinoceros. When you’re im­mune to crit­i­cism, you’re not go­ing to make good judg­ments about what’s ac­cept­able.

And yet, even to the end, he had some won­der­ful days. On the morning of Septem­ber 22, Len Brown was the last of six speak­ers at the of­fi­cial open­ing of the ASB Wa­ter­front Theatre. Most of the oth­ers stum­bled through their of­fi­cial speeches.Brown be­gan with a lengthy mihi, de­liv­ered in Maori with­out notes, and then launched into a heart­felt and lyri­cal trib­ute to the Auck­land Theatre Com­pany (ATC) and the value of the cul­tural sec­tor to the city.

He talked about the “flow­er­ing and unit­ing” of Auck­land, and about the “grand dames”, the pa­trons and phi­lan­thropists such as Dayle Mace, who “sat in my of­fice” and made him un­der­stand the im­por­tance of the theatre to the city. “Lester, we love you,” Brown said, re­fer­ring to Lester McGrath, the gen­eral man­ager of the ATC, who steered the whole project. Most men still don’t say that in pub­lic about other men. “Thank you from the bot­tom of our col­lec­tive hearts.”

Then he said, “This could be the last time I do this,” and walked out from the lectern to stand down­stage cen­tre. And there, in front of 500 mem­bers of the city’s so­phis­ti­cated cul­tural set, he sang “Karu Karu”, a song about fish­ing which is re­ally about hopes and dreams of what is to come.

Sev­eral peo­ple joined in. He was great. His speech had been laden with the kind of or­a­tor­i­cal flour­ishes and emo­tive in­tent that al­most ev­ery other New Zealand politi­cian these days makes a point of avoid­ing. But his song was even bet­ter.

I’ve watched Len Brown make speeches and sing songs for years. He can be gauche, laugh­able, te­dious but also in­spired. He hung on to “Pokarekare Ana” as his song of choice way longer than he should have, but the singing was al­ways good.

More than that, it said some­thing. It said a lot of things. That he re­spected tal­ent and that he had some him­self. That he con­nected with Maori­tanga in a mean­ing­ful way.

That he wasn’t afraid to en­joy him­self in pub­lic. That of all the ways pub­lic fig­ures get to show off, singing is surely one of the best.

To sing in pub­lic, un­ac­com­pa­nied, is to ex­press the best of your­self. To be brave and to risk ev­ery­thing.

When Brown did it, he placed him­self at the mercy of ev­ery per­son in his au­di­ence who might want to laugh at him, and some­times they did.

He said to them, to all his au­di­ences but es­pe­cially to the ones he cared for the most, those kids in Brown­town, “If I can do this, a scrawny white boy from How­ick, if I can be mayor and stand here and sing for you, what’s not pos­si­ble for any of you? If you’ve got a dream, don’t let the fear of what other peo­ple might think stand in your way.”

It’s such good ad­vice for singing. It doesn’t ap­ply if you re­ally do dis­grace your­self.

He said to them all, “If I can do this, a scrawny white kid from How­ick, if I can be mayor and stand here and sing for you, what’s not pos­si­ble for any of you?”

JANE USSHER SHOT BROWN (CEN­TRE) WITH DEPUTY MAYOR PENNY HULSE AND MEM­BERS OF HIS OF­FICE IN SEPTEM­BER 2013, AT THE END OF HIS FIRST TERM, JUST A FEW WEEKS BE­FORE THE SCAN­DAL BROKE.

JANE USSHER’S POR­TRAIT WAS ALSO TAKEN AT THE END OF BROWN’S FIRST TERM.

ANNA CRICH­TON DREW BROWN FOR US AT THE END OF 2013, TWO MONTHS AF­TER THE SCAN­DAL BROKE.

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