Gordon Campbell on counting the ways Auckland was failed by its mayor

Wayne Brown imageI

n some alternative universe, Auckland mayor Efeso Collins readily grasped the scale of Friday’s deluge, and quickly made the emergency declaration that enabled central government to immediately throw its resources behind the rescue and remediation effort. As Friday evening became night, Mayor Collins seemed to be everywhere: talking with the civil defence personnel, fire crews and first responders out on the streets, and updating stricken locals on the help headed their way now, and over the coming days.

Obviously, that’s not what happened. As the flood waters rose it became obvious that was the city’s new mayor, Wayne Brown was out of his depth. Faced with his first crisis, Brown seemed to freeze. When he finally emerged from wherever he’d been bunkering for much of Friday, the person he seemed most interested in rescuing was himself. Maybe, Brown suggested, there had been too many people communicating with the public, and they’d drowned him out. Sure. As Simon Wilson pointed out laconically in an excellent NZ Herald column :

“Trusting the professionals” at council is a new line for Wayne Brown. He won an election by excoriating the professionals in charge of the City Rail Link, Auckland Transport, Ports of Auckland and other council agencies.

Regardless, here was Brown again:

Brown said he followed advice from professionals.

“They said ‘sign this thing’, and it was signed within two minutes.”

Right. That’s definitely a new Wayne Brown : the prisoner of the professionals, the captive of the Comms team. Incredibly, Brown didn’t seem to have the foggiest idea that the situation called for overt leadership, and that he was the person being expected to show some or it. Wilson, again :

The biggest worry is this: Brown has not grasped that it’s the job of political leaders to lead from the front, visibly, in times of crisis. Think Bob Parker in his orange raincoat during the Christchurch earthquakes. John Key after Pike River, Jacinda Ardern over and over again.

In a crisis, political leaders are supposed to soak up people’s fears. It’s their job to reassure those who have lost everything that they are supported, that society will stand with them and help them.

Mopping Up

Luckily, central government rushed into the vacuum, in the shape of a competent Transport Minister in Michael Wood. Deputy PM Carmel Sepuloni also prroved to be a caring and re-assuring presence on the front-lines. Meanwhile, Brown was mocking the very idea of him turning up with a bucket to help out.

As things stand this morning, more rain is forecast for Auckland and other affected regions, mid-week. Eventually, the rain will cease, and the ground and houses will dry out. A full recovery though, will take months, or years. Presumably, central government and the Auckland City Council will have to contribute to a major aid package, running into the billions. Given Brown’s incompetence to date, someone else on council will need to help to co-ordinate a rebuild with a construction industry that’s already stretched to the limit. Immigration rules will have to be relaxed to bring in foreign construction workers, assuming they can be attracted here.

Many of the storm’s victims have lost everything. It is reasonable to assume many people wouldn’t have been able to afford the insurance premiums (say, for house contents and cars) that would be offering them a platform for recovery. Given the climate change outlook, those premiums seem sure to rise. This means that the safeguards against the extreme weather events likely in future will move even further out of reach, for many people who are currently subsisting on low incomes.

That being the case, the public will need to be protected from the more frequent, more intense storms being generated by climate change. This will require extensive investment in the systems that manage our stormwater, waste water and drinking water. If only there was a scheme on the drawing board able to deliver the major investment required in our water infrastructure, nationwide. If only the combo of short-sighted councils, angry farmers and unscrupulous politicians weren’t trying to stop the Three Waters scheme in its tracks.

Wayne ‘s World

Monday morning, and Wayne Brown is once again shunning state radio. He did win himself a governing mandate at last year’s local body elections, but that’s not saying a lot. Brown won 45% of the 35% of eligible voters who actually cast a ballot., which comes down to 15.75 % – or less than one in six – of the city’s eligible voters.

Unwittingly, Brown may be offering the entire country a cautionary lesson in what CEO-style political leadership looks like. Meaning : Brown is making it crystal clear that running a business – or an airline – is not at all like running a country.

CEOs have to answer only to the shareholders. Political leaders are supposed to govern on behalf of all sectors of society, even – or especially – on behalf of the segments of the population that can’t be monetised.

In other words, the very qualiity that makes for a successful CEO – the single minded focus on the bottom line – tends to be a serious handicap in public office. The cult of the god-like CEO, where fans worship the likes of Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg Jobs, and Gates, has misled many politicians to think and act as if they, too, have been endowed with a rare intelligence not possessed by lesser beings. Their vision is too pure to be queried by the know-nothings in the media, let alone by any maverick on staff foolish enough to query the wisdom of the boss’s announcements. CEOs do not run their corporations as if they are social democracies. Democratic feedback is treated as a hindrance, or even an insult.

Ultimately, control freaks crave the security of an acclaim they have convinced themselves to be their rightful due. For months, that’s why Brown has resisted being accountable to the media or to his subordinates because … in all likelihood they’re suspected of being part of a conspiracy to make his imperial administration look bad. No doubt, control freaks can be successful on narrow economic terms. When all the praise is funnelled upstairs and all the blame is showered on the scapegoats below them, autocrats like Brown can even convince themselves they’re doing a good job.

At least that is the case until reality – which as Stephen Colbert once famously joked, has a well-known liberal bias – eventually intrudes, in much the same way as the rising floodwaters did last Friday.

Tom Verlaine, RIP

Tom Verlaine was like a Rubik’s Cube with a few missing parts, in that the ingredients of his music always seemed to co-exist in unresolved tension. First and foremost, he was a wonderful, melodically inventive and influential guitarist. He was also an extremely intense singer whose strangulated vocals sounded like no-one else. Yet as a songwriter, Verlaine was also able to treat the realities of romantic angst with distance and laconic humour, as in these lines from “Glory”:

Said there’s a halo on that truck
Won’t you please get it for me
I said, “Of course my little swan
If ever and ever you adore me”
She got mad, she said,
“You’re too steep”
Puts on her boxing gloves
And went to sleep …

Impassioned, but also stylised and aloof- Aamost like a US version of Bryan Ferry, in some respects. Verlaine, 73, died on the weekend after a brief illness. When you consider the stylistic range of the musicians who emerged from CBGBs in the mid 1970s (Television, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie etc ) it is a striking reminder of how varied this New York scene was in comparison to the British punk scene that came in its wake.

Born Thomas Miller, Verlaine was the lead singer, guitarist and main songwriter for Television and was (briefly) a key colleague and partner of Patti Smith. The stately, impassioned tread of “Marquee Moon” – the title track of the band’s first album – helped it become the first cult artifact of the era that spawned punk. Yet as I’ve indicated. Verlaine was always something of an outlier, even within the scene that he was so central to launching..

According to Robert Christgau, Television always had more in common with the likes of Neil Young and Crazy Horse than with the punks that came along afterwards. Here’s “Glory” the lead cut from Television’s second album. 

“Postcards From Waterloo” comes from Verlaine’s 1982 album Words From The Front.


As mentioned in this column a few months ago, the song “Tom Verlaine” was a highlight of the Blue Rev album released last year by the terrific Canadian indie pop band, Alvays. And the song “Always” was itself a standout cut on Verlaine’s own 1981 solo album Dreamtime :


From 1990, when Verlaine was hitting 40, here’s “Stalingrad” which provided one of the few good moments on his sixth, little heard solo album The Wonder :


Finally… here’s where it all started, with “Marque Moon,” back in 1977 :