Justin Lester elected new mayor of Wellington
Justin Lester walked into a Lambton Quay barbershop on Saturday afternoon looking for a quick trim - he walked out of there few minutes later as the new mayor of Wellington.
With such a tight mayoral race predicted for the capital city, many expected the result to be decided late in the evening.
That includes Lester, 37, who was sneaking in a quick haircut at the Groom Room about 3pm when the news came through that he had won the election.
"I was pretty ecstatic. I got the phonecall through from [council chief executive] Kevin Lavery and thought I'd better take it, even though I was in the middle of a haircut," Lester said.
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"Sammy [the barber] and I had a bit of a chat about it and then the phonecalls just kept on coming, which makes it a bit hard to cut your hair, but he did a good job."
Lester's barber, Sam Dowdall, said he was quite literally mid-snip when the new mayor got the good news.
"He was drenched in water. He wasn't exactly in a state to be walking out," Dowdall laughed.
Despite the scissors being dangerously close to Lester's head, he managed to keep his composure and "throw out a couple of fist pumps" rather than jump for joy and cause an accident, Dowdall said.
"I actually took a walk because I could tell there was something serious going on. I had a good feeling about the phonecall."
Lester said he was absolutely over the moon to be elected mayor of Wellington and was looking forward to getting on with the job.
Lester succeeds Celia Wade-Brown who decided to step down after two terms in office. Lester won with a 6000-vote majority, ahead of nearest rival Nick Leggett.
Lester pledged to hold a summit within six weeks to build a united plan for the city and reset the relationship with central Government.
"I am truly honoured and humbled that Wellingtonians have put their faith in me to lead this city and I am committed to getting the job done."
"We need to unlock investment funding immediately, and to do that I know it is important to reset and strengthen the relationship between our city council and central government. My first official phone calls will be made to the Beehive to rebuild those relationships."
"I would like to congratulate those councillors that successfully won their wards this evening."
FORMER MAYOR PLEASED
Outgoing mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who endorsed Lester for the Wellington mayoralty said was pleased with his win saying "he's campaigned hard and I think he'll be a great leader."
She said she while she wasn't surprised about how early the result came out, she praised all the candidates as well as Wellington voters.
"I think the candidates all generally ran positive campaigns so it was good for democracy that we've got the numbers up too." Voter turnout was higher in Wellington than it had been for the three previous local body elections.
Wade-Brown was planning to head down to Lester's campaign party to congratulate him in person.
RIVALS OFFER CONGRATULATIONS
Runner-up and former Porirua mayor Nick Leggett has congratulated Lester on his big win.
"He has had a really strong victory", Leggett said.
He said the city was well poised to succeed and congratulated all the Wellington city councillors.
Moments after the win mayoralty rival Jo Coughlan said: "Congratulations to Justin and I wish him all the best."
She still planned to head to an organised party later in the evening to meet with family, friends and supporters.
Coughlan came in third, followed by Nicola Young, Andy Foster, Helene Ritchie, Keith Johnson, then Johnny Overton.
Foster congratulated Lester on a clear win. "I'm not surprised, although I thought it was going to be fairly close between the three with the deepest pockets."
Foster placed fifth, but retained a seat on the council.Nicola Young said Lester "will have a very different style from Celia [Wade-Brown]," and "time will tell" how he leads as Mayor.
Young was re-elected as a councillor._Helene Ritchie hoped Lester would do "Wellington proud".
"There are lots of expensive promises that have to be kept."
Ritchie has been a Wellington city councillor for nearly 40 years but did not contest her council seat.
She said the mayoral campaign was a bit or "a lottery" and it was not just the mayor but the whole council that would make decisions.
Johnny Overton and Keith Johnston have been approached for comment.
LESTER'S TO-DO LIST
Lester will have plenty on his plate once his inauguration is complete.
Top of the list for him will be establishing himself as an effective leader. Wellington City Council showed plenty of cracks during Wade-Brown's last term when it came to morale and unity.
The fact that five councillors put their hand up to be mayor this time around suggests they were unhappy with their leadership. Lester will need to get his new council on-side and working together quickly to avoid a repeat of embarrassing, drawn-out arguments like the one over the Island Bay cycleway.
Housing will also be near the top of Lester's immediate agenda, with house price growth in Wellington now outpacing Auckland and capital houses having increased in value by 14.3 per cent in the year to September.
To keep house affordable, Wellington City Council recently voted to form an urban development agency, which will be charged with managing land development across the city by packaging land acquisitions.
It will be up to Lester and his new council to get this organisation up and running quickly, and keep it on task.
Lester has also promised to introduce a $5000 rates rebate for first-time owners building a home and rental warrant of fitness. It will be on him to bring these policies into force as quickly as possible.
A very large and complicated transport discussion also poised to break out in Wellington, which will test Lester's leadership skills right off the bat.
Those involved in the 'Get Welly Moving' initiative are expected to reveal potential solutions to the capital's inner city traffic congestion early next year after the infamous Basin Reserve flyover project went down the tubes.
Lester has made no secret of his desire to see State Highway 1 sent underground at the Basin Reserve cricket ground via a tunnel. But tunnels do not come cheap, and as Auckland discovered with the City Rail Link, convincing the Government to write big cheques for projects like this will take plenty of guile.
Lester has also promised to invest more in the city's libraries and public facilities and bring the minimum pay packets of everyone at Wellington City Council up from $18.55 per hour to the current living wage of $19.80 per hour.
Rough estimates suggest that could see the council's annual wage bill increase between $700,000 and $8 million, depending on how many staff receive the new pay rate.
This means there will be plenty of heat on Lester and his staff to deliver an affordable 2017-18 budget in the first half of next year - one that keeps rates increases around the 2-3 per cent mark, which considers "reasonable".
WHO IS JUSTIN LESTER?
* Lives in Johnsonville with wife Liz and their daughters Madeleine, 5, and Harriet, 3.
* Has a law degree from Otago University and a Master of Laws from Heidelberg University.
* Has an employment background in property and asset management, as well as commercial real estate.
* Co-founded and owns the Kapai chain of healthy food stores.
* Board member of Wellington SPCA and former board member of Capital Football.
* First elected as a city councillor for the northern ward in 2010 and has been Wellington's deputy mayor since 2013.
WELLINGTON COUNCILLORS ELECTED
Elected: Sarah Free, Simon "Swampy" Marsh, Chris Calvi-Freeman.
Excluded: Lynda McGregor, Rob Goulden, Robert Murray.
Elected: Iona Pannett, Nicola Young, Brian Dawson.
Excluded: Mazz Scannell, Tony Jansen, Milton Hollard, Dave Gee, Troy Mihaka.
Elected: Malcolm Sparrow, Jill Day, Peter Gilberd.
Excluded: Graeme Sawyer, Judith Gray, John Apanowicz.
Elected: Andy Foster, Simon Woolf, Diane Calvert.
Excluded: Ray Chung, Matthew Plummer, Paul Douglas, Thomas Gregory, Phipps Morgan.
Elected: Paul Eagle, David Lee.
Excluded: Brendon Bonner, Brent Pierson, Don Newt McDonald.