Len Brown affair a 'new low' in NZ politics
Defiant Auckland mayor Len Brown insists his behaviour during a two-year affair breached no official rules – but that his extreme public humiliation has brought a “new low” to the laws of New Zealand politics.
Brown, in his first print interview since news of the sex scandal broke, believes he did not violate Auckland council’s code of conduct in any way, partially because he says it doesn’t apply to him.
He says writing a letter of recommendation for his former mistress Bevan Chuang, a junior council advisor on ethnic affairs 25 years his junior, was not an issue and he should not be sanctioned for it. Brown also promised no council money was used for hotels or other expenses.
However, he refused to comment on whether having sex on council premises would have resulted in disciplinary action for other council employees.
Brown also refused to discuss the involvement of his political rivals in the American-style sting, but said he bore Chuang and everyone else involved "no personal animosity."
"For her or any of the others, I’m sorry for them. I really would encourage them all to get on with their lives," he said.
Brown, 57, who has a wife and three daughters, has been effectively in hiding since graphic details of the extra-marital affair were published on the WhaleOil blog one week ago.
In that time, the story has exploded, with 32-year-old Chuang breaking off contact with the journalist who wrote it – Stephen Cook; the firing of another journalist who wrote an editorial saying Brown should stay on as mayor; accusations of a “right-wing conspiracy’’ led by rival mayoral candidate John Palino and his offsider Luigi Wewege (Chuang’s some-time boyfriend); a council investigation into Brown’s spending; rumours Brown’s wife was considering leaving him; and numerous revelations about Chuang herself – including her criminal history.
Brown re-emerged from amid the storm for the first time yesterday to take questions at a public show-home event, where media converged on him to again ask if he would resign.
Before the appearance, he spoke to Fairfax Media, with the intention that his apologies and assurances would be published in his local paper, the Manukau Courier, for his supporters to read today.
Among the promises Brown made, he said there would be no further revelations that could damage his – and Auckland’s – reputation.
“That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be some people that would like to take the opportunity to have some fun and games at the mayor’s expense,” he said.
“But look, this has been horrendous. I’m just working through this now and expect nothing further than the issues I have to deal with.”
Brown said the experience had been an “extraordinarily difficult time”.
“It’s hard to think it was only a week ago really that we concluded with an election that was successful.”
He hinted he was yet to work out what had driven him to begin the relationship with Chuang.
“I have been - obviously in this situation - seriously reflecting on myself our family circumstances. What’s led to this? Why? Is there any reason at all?” he said.
“And then [also reflecting] on my wider obligations, responsibilities, and passion for our city and desire to lead it.”
He was confident that Aucklanders would forgive him and move on, saying all the city wanted was a council that could focus on transport, housing and spending.
While he had seriously erred personally, there were no official rules breached, Brown said.
When asked if he had violated the code of conduct Brown said he “wasn’t covered by that”.
“That is primarily relating to conduct towards each other in the political realm. This is not about my conduct towards my colleagues. I have not specifically affronted any of them. I’ve let myself down,” he said.
Every council has to have a code of conduct which covers the behaviour of members towards each other, staff and the public.
Auckland council’s version covers areas such as ethics, integrity, openness, impartiality and respect. The code explicitly lists the mayor as a party.
However, Brown said it did not relate to this issue.
“The only thing that I really need to be mindful of this time is the view of the people who elected me as mayor.”
Asked if an employee having sex in the town hall – which Brown allegedly did on several occasions – would be allowed to keep their job, the mayor said:
“I’m not going to get into that.”
“This is a very, very, very personal matter … and I’m paying the price right now. But voters can judge me by the way they’ve seen me lead.”
Brown also did not want to discuss the alleged activities of his political rivals.
“I’ve done something really stupid. It’s caused massive impact to my family and myself. Others, if they’ve done anything that is deemed inappropriate, they will have to deal with that themselves,” he said.
But he said there were wider issues at play in terms of politician’s privacy that needed to be dealt with.
“It’s certainly a new low,” he said, of the smear campaign. “It’s just not about the mayoralty, it’s about politics full-stop.”
“If there are no boundaries, no rights, none of the normal protections of the law, natural justice…the right to trial or a fair hearing…then whoever - unless you’re the most perfect person on the planet - is going to want to stand for office? Particularly in offices such as these which are high-powered offices.”
However, Brown said now was not the time for him to discuss what could be done about ensuring there were those boundaries.
“I’m just focussed on getting myself from day to day,” he said. “I’m sleeping like a log, I’m very lucky that way.”
“I’m doing my very best to maintain my personal equilibrium. Many have said, ‘Len, keep your chin up’ and that’s what I’m trying to do. The problem is every time I put my chin up someone has a swing at it.”
Asked if he had a final message for the people of Auckland, Brown took a long pause.
‘‘My message… is thank you. I have been out there over the last few days, sort of visiting a number of places, like the various town centres, and just thank people for their support,” he said.
‘‘I know and understand there’s a bit of personal grieving going on – I’ve disappointed them. They’ve been very supportive of me with Shan [Inglis, his wife].”
“I really appreciate that. I’m asking them and Aucklanders to let me redeem myself and carry on with my work..’’