Fear and loathing on the North Shore

21:09, Mar 29 2010

I've seen a few hatchet jobs in my time covering politics, but this one takes the biscuit.

Let me say right up front that I'm no fan of North Shore Mayor Andy Williams. He's bombastic, opinionated, shoots from the lip, and makes as many enemies as he does friends. A bit like Auckland Mayor John Banks, actually.

He's clearly a bit of a larrikin, too, in the best Australian political tradition, given to sending late-night texts to the prime minister and enjoying a drink or two.

But of the stitch-ups, of all the nasty, low-down, personal vendettas, of all the naked, backstabbing, below-the-belt, shin-kicking attacks, the orchestrated beat-up on Williams has me almost feeling sorry for him.

Let's recap. Williams was sitting in a popular Takapuna bar, GPK, where a reporter, Jonathan Marshall, from the Sunday Star-Times, spotted him "by chance'', according to the paper. For some reason Marshall - or another reporter - decided to watch the mayor until he was done and then followed him down the street late at night.

Apparently Williams stopped to relieve himself against a tree outside the mayoral chambers before climbing in his car and driving off. The newspaper has reported he drove home, so presumably someone followed him there as well.


Now, I accept peeing on a tree isn't generally accepted mayoral behaviour, although I think there is a difference between doing it in the middle of the day in public and in the dark where Williams (presumably) thought he was alone, and not being spied upon by a member of the fourth estate.

The next thing we know, Local Government Minister Rodney Hide - who just happens to loathe Williams with every bone in his body, and is at loggerheads with him over the supercity - is calling for his resignation.

Funnily enough another North Shore councillor, Chris Darby - who happens to hate Williams and also wants his job - is also calling for his head. How very surprising. "It's the last straw,'' Darby said.

Now, we're told Williams drank two bottles of wine - because a waitress at the restaurant said so - and the reporter concerned has somehow got hold of Williams' bill from the night in question. Apparently it was Porters Syrah, a nice drop, although we have only the waitress's word that he consumed most of it alone. 

And - shock, horror - Williams didn't buy a meal, according to the Star-Times

The newspaper then interviewed someone from the Land Transport Safety Authority who said people shouldn't drink two bottles of wine and then drive home.

Good grief. What on earth is going on here? We've tried and executed Williams on the basis of what? Hearsay from a bar waitress and a reporter creeping around after the mayor in the dark? Printing claims that Williams has "some personal issues'' that he needs to go and sort out?

Talk about character assassination.

I wonder if Marshall's ever peed on a tree after a night out? Or has Rodney Hide, for that matter? Williams is said to have sent an email late that night to council staff saying he had "utter contempt'' for Hide and frankly I don't blame him.

It is bordering on unconstitutional for Hide to call for Williams' resignation. As the Minister of Local Government he has no right to do so. Indeed it's highly unethical.

And I wonder how the latest email surfaced? Clearly Williams doesn't have many friends on the council staff, either.

Those are issues for North Shore to sort out - not Rodney Hide. Only the voters can and should decide whether Williams stays or goes. Just the same as they alone will decide Hide's fate.

I know politics can be a blood sport, but the sheer venality of this campaign against Williams transcends even national politics. It's tittle-tattle, fear and loathing stuff.

Williams is certainly an eccentric character. But then so's Bob Harvey. He used to walk around without any clothes on. He was also a damn good mayor. It's all part of the colour of Auckland local body politics.

I hope Williams hangs on and I hope he contests the next election in October because I reckon he'll romp home. At least he's got warm blood in his veins.

This is an interesting trend. First someone finks on Labour's Charles Chauvel for muttering under his breath about noisy kids. Now this. What's next? Politician crosses road on "Don't Walk'' sign? MP caught littering?

God only knows what the supercity mayoral campaign will be like, but I wouldn't want to even report on it - let alone contest it.

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Picture: Grahame Cox/Sunday News