OPINION: Auckland Mayor Len Brown may just have got out of jail.
The extraordinary new claims from his former mistress, Bevan Chuang, that she was pressured by his political enemies into revealing details of her affair with the mayor may just be enough to save his political bacon.
It doesn't change the fact that Brown has cheated. It doesn't change the fact that he has betrayed his caucus, severely damaged his reputation and hobbled his mayoralty. A pall still hangs over his political future. But at least he may still have one.
In a story that is rapidly becoming an American-style sex scandal of Anthony Weiner proportions, today's big reveal is that Chuang was also allegedly sleeping with the enemy - Brown's enemy, Luigi Wewege, a member of mayoral candidate John Palino's election team.
Chuang claims that once Wewege found out about her relationship with Brown, he began piling on the pressure for her to reveal the affair and destroy the Mayor in the run-up to last Saturday's local body elections.
Wewege categorically denies this. He says they were just friends who sometimes went to the same functions, and that they were never in a relationship.
And yet Facebook messages between the pair provided by Chuang to the New Zealand Herald cast doubt on Wewege's denials. According to these messages, Wewege told Chuang he loved her, couldn't wait to lie in bed with her, and that she could change the election result if she could just provide "a shrewd piece of evidence''.
According to Chuang, she was pressured for months to record phone sex conversations with Brown and to hand over text messages between her and the Mayor. For a long time she refused, arguing nothing good could come of it and she would only harm her own fledgling political career.
But what changed her mind? Chuang claims the disappointment of losing by several hundred votes in her Auckland local board seat, coupled with Palino's loss in the mayoral race and the pressure she was under all became too much.
But that's not how the publisher of the original bombshell story, Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater sees it. He says threatening text messages sent to Chuang and also to himself, National Cabinet Minister Maurice Williamson, Palino, centre-Right Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer, and Slater's father and Palino campaign manager, John Slater, convinced Chuang to go public with her story.
Cameron Slater believes the texts came from someone in Brown's camp, but he can't prove that (and Brown's camp hotly denies it): "If they hadn't sent the threatening texts she would never have signed the affidavit. It was their decision to play dirty,'' Slater says.
Yet both sides are slinging the mud. Brown's camp claims both Slaters are "donkey deep'' in the whole scandal and have been busy manipulating the media coverage. Brown's people say Cameron Slater and the story's author, former Truth tabloid journalist Stephen Cook, have lost control of Chuang and the story.
To them, Chuang has been but a pawn in a Right-wing plot to get Brown and oust him from Town Hall. To which Slater jeers: "Yeah, right, we planted her with Brown two years ago. It was all a set-up, a vast right-wing conspiracy.''
He's being sarcastic, of course, and he has a point. Brown and Chuang are adults, and they made their own decisions and their own mistakes. But this is a story that is as much about politics as it is about sex. Slater has never denied he wants Brown gone. But to him, Chuang played with fire and got burned - and now can't cope with the fallout.
The as-yet unanswered question is who sent the messages that seemed to push Chuang over the edge. The phone number they came from goes to a generic answerphone message and has now been disconnected.
Both sides deny sending them. But it seems at the very least coincidental that the messages were sent on the same day Slater posted a veiled reference on his blog to Brown needing to "stop smiling at Asian beauties''.
That day, last Tuesday, was also the same day Brown says he told his wife he'd been having an affair.
Whoever sent those text messages, it appears they were the catalyst for everything that happened next.
- (Live Matches)