Aldo's buona fortuna

BY TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:00 16/10/2010
Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio and wife Kim
MARION VAN DIJK/Nelson Mail
LUCKY CHARM: Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio and wife Kim. Will buona fortuna (Italian for good luck) stay with him during his mayoralty?

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Aldo Miccio is an Italian Catholic family man who dresses in sharp suits and wears his hair in a distinctive forward-brushed style.

At 39, he is now undoubtedly Nelson city's youngest mayor – certainly if the gallery of crusty-looking former bearers of the top office displayed at Civic House is anything to go by.

If the three years during which he has risen from rookie councillor have been marked by his jovial – if not naive – approach to the job, he could also be said to have had a charmed run, where any fallout from the tougher issues seems to have flowed over him like air past a fast-moving object.

Whether that will last is now perhaps the number one question facing his new mayoralty.

Mr Miccio (pronounced mi-chi-oh) takes refuge from the demands and pressures he has just taken on in the sanctuary of his stylish inner-city home, which he and his wife Kim and three children moved into just as the official election campaign started.

Their modernised 1930s bungalow is tucked behind an enclave of elegant Nelson homes which in recent weeks have seen the floodwaters of the Maitai River race by, and whose front yards were the scene recently of the savage beating of Nelson hairdresser Brent Powell – also the man in charge of Mr Miccio's well-trimmed tresses. (The Miccios were away at a school sports tournament at the time of the attack.)

The family live a traditional lifestyle, although it could be termed privileged by today's standards. Mrs Miccio does not work outside the home, apart from the support she provides to the couple's business interests in commercial property.

She was all but invisible during the campaign, but the former Sydney hotel reservations sales manager is no shrinking violet.

There's a hint that Mr Miccio's strongest supporter, who is proud of her maternal role in the household, was an important factor in his success, if only to pledge her support for keeping the home fires burning.

"We made a bit of a pact with ourselves. We've got three young children, and I've always said I'll be the one to cook them their meals, I'll always be the one to do their homework with them and kiss them goodnight," Mrs Miccio says.

"I said I'd be there to support Aldo when he came home, but I didn't have a lot to do with the actual nuts and bolts of the campaign until it came to the push and shove of it."

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Aldo Miccio's first years were spent in Tahunanui. He is the son of Nelson-born Cristina Romano and Italian-born Raffaele Miccio, a fish and chip shop owner, restaurateur and market gardener.

He was still a youngster when the family moved to Trafalgar St, and then when he was seven, the family joined the Italian-Kiwi clan in Nelson's Grove St.

Mrs Miccio jokes that when she was writing out their wedding invitations from where they were living in Sydney, she asked if everyone in Nelson lived in Grove St.

"I was beginning to think that Nelson only had one street."

Mr Miccio says he's "100 per cent Italian", and is proud of the family's southern Italian roots.

His maternal grandfather, Cataldo Romano – who renamed himself "Jim" to avoid having to constantly educate 1920s Nelsonians in how to pronounce his name – hails from the small town of Massalubrense near Sorrento.

It's the same place where Mr Miccio's father was born. "My grandfather came here in the early 1920s – he was 15, then went back to Italy, where he met my grandmother (Emma Mastellone)." The couple then returned to Nelson, where Mr Miccio's mother was born.

He speaks the Naples dialect, which has been useful during business trips to that particular region of Italy.

"I spent at least the last 10-15 years speaking with Italians, and a number of my customers through my company Bissi were Italian."

He sold Bissi, a predominantly giftware importing company, to a Chinese company last November. He says he had been trying to sell it since he was elected to the council in 2007, and that the timing had nothing to do with any expectation he had the mayoralty wrapped up.

The young Mr Miccio went to Nelson's St Joseph's School and then Nelson College. He later graduated from the University of Canterbury with a commerce degree, majoring in marketing and management.

A career in management progressed from there, which took him to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney, where he met his wife.

"I met Aldo when I was 27, when he was working for a giftware company. It was pretty much a whirlwind romance. We got married and had two of our children, Lewis and Isabella, in Sydney," Mrs Miccio says.

In 2002, he convinced his wife that Nelson was the place to live. Mr Miccio developed a number of business interests, and was elected to the city council in 2007 as part of the Hands Up ticket.

He remains an executive and non-executive director of a few small companies. New Zealand Companies Office records show he is a director and shareholder in family-owned business the Sandwich Club.

He and his family trust hold 50 per cent of AAPI Ltd, the company which owns 325 Hardy St, which houses Hardy's Bar and Cafe. The other 50 shares are held by ADR Nelson Ltd, a company wholly belonging to Mr Miccio's older cousin Anthony Romano, who fostered a high-flying Europe-based career which led to him becoming general manager of Italy's 2007 America's Cup challenger Luna Rossa.

The cousins shared similar career paths, sown in the soils of Grove St market gardens and formalised in Canterbury University's commerce department.

Mr Miccio says his civic aspirations stem from the end of the World of WearableArt Awards in Nelson, and the beginning of his doubts about the city's ability to attract investment.

"Losing WOW was a big hit for this community. We lost three months of our peak season.

"I saw Rugby World Cup coming along [New Zealand had just won the hosting rights] and I thought how Nelson could be a part of that. Nelson was slowly becoming marginalised as a region, I guess, and not going ahead."

His feelings around amalgamation, including launching a petition which eventually got enough signatures to trigger a Local Government Commission inquiry, galvanised his aim to stand for the mayoralty.

His ambition rankled with some. He was publicly ticked off by the then-mayor, Kerry Marshall, for claiming the credit for securing a slice of the World Cup.

But Mr Miccio can reasonably take credit for the Italian rugby team coming here during the event, having done the groundwork in the months prior to the 2007 election campaign.

Bill Dahlberg, the man who managed the Hands Up campaign in 2007 and this year ran the unsuccessful bid by Mr Miccio's rival mayoral candidate, Rachel Reese, recalls that time.

"During the Hands Up campaign, [Mr Miccio] was only there for two months and we carried him the last two. He was away trying to secure Italian interest in the RWC here."

Mr Dahlberg doesn't begrudge that. He says it's more inclined to reveal the type of mayor he might be. A "party mayor" has been the growing buzz around town since last Saturday's result.

"It's my experience that the person who goes out chasing challenges is the person who gets the scores for you rather than being the team person," Mr Dahlberg says of Mr Miccio's style.

Echoes of him not taking things seriously enough have occasionally bounced around the council chamber, particularly when he's been late for meetings or hasn't shown up at all. He has countered criticism for this in the past by saying that the times he did not show were because he was sidetracked by other council business.

Council chief executive Keith Marshall's chagrin over Mr Miccio "not reading his papers properly" during a tense time in June prompted an unusual outburst from the CEO.

Recently retired senior councillor Mike Cotton, who publicly endorsed Mr Miccio and also helped physically and financially with his campaign, admits it wasn't love at first sight.

"To be honest, I didn't like him or any of the Hands Up crew when they first arrived.

"Aldo was away on business when the council was elected, but Kerry told me I would like him, and that he was a friendly, nice guy, and I thought, `Jesus'. But it turned out he was right."

Mr Cotton says that what turned him was Mr Miccio's measured approach to things – "Natureland, for example" (the controversy early in the council's term when it proposed closing the zoo park, triggering a fierce public protest and a backdown).

"He sussed that out real quick that it wasn't a good idea to close it. A few things he did made me realise he was a guy with a head on his shoulders."

Despite Mr Dahlberg's views over Mr Miccio's shortcomings, he credits him with running a good campaign.

"It was early, high-profile and offered a good range of ways to engage the public."

Mr Miccio says he managed and ran his own campaign, which he reckons cost less than the maximum $30,000 he could spend, drawing on his years of marketing experience. He says he plans to declare all donors, none of whom contributed more than $1000.

His busy publicity machine was run by former broadcast journalist and parliamentary press secretary Emma Thompson, who now runs a corporate communications firm in Nelson. Mrs Thompson and her husband Phil, who stood unsuccessfully for the council this year, moved to Nelson from Auckland in 2004. She came on board Mr Miccio's campaign as a volunteer.

"I first met Aldo and introduced myself not long after the RWC decision. I'm a strong rugby supporter, and working in the corporate environment, I was feeling the pain of my clients dealing with the recession.

"RWC became a beacon for the city. I wanted to thank him and the council for Nelson being included in the mix."

Mr Miccio appeared to also win the heart of Wild Tomato magazine. Its editor, Jack Martin, denies that it backed any candidate, but it did applaud certain aspects of Mr Miccio's performance as a councillor around the World Cup.

A glowing editorial in the magazine's April 2009 edition confirms this: "Let's not forget to give praise where praise is due. The bid [to host Rugby World Cup 2011 games in Nelson] was, of course, a team effort, but one man's efforts sing out – stand up Aldo Miccio. In the face of endless negativity, he's delivered the biggest single event to come to Nelson in our lifetimes," Mr Martin wrote.

He says now: "We don't support any candidate, and I very much doubt we will, but all credit to the man. He's done a great job and now he's mayor, which is very exciting.".

Mr Miccio also managed to get his name into national media, including a spot on Radio New Zealand National's programme Afternoons with Jim Mora during August, and securing a photo spread featuring his home and family in the Sunday Star-Times' colour supplement, Sunday.

Serious music lovers might cringe at his choice of Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as his "greatest song ever written" for Mora's show.

But Mr Miccio, who has a disarming ability to laugh at himself, professes to know little about music, recalling his appearance years ago on the television musical quiz show Face the Music. "I answered the most questions ever, but not one of them was right."

Mr Dahlberg is convinced that Mr Miccio's team was behind the timing of the Sunday article and photo spread.

"I actually thought it was brilliant, and wondered why I hadn't thought of that myself. He knows how to market a product."

Sunday editor Rose Hoare says she did not know the photographer who sent in the pictures, Daniel Allen, was also doing Mr Miccio's election publicity photos.

"We just thought the shots were visually appealing, and I guess it was sloppy on our part not to have realised how close to the election it was. If we'd thought more, we should have held it until after the election," Ms Hoare says.

In other words, marketing nous and a bit of luck once again saw things go Mr Miccio's way.

The question remains whether he can continue to rely on that combination as he moves into his new office – and whether the city's youngest mayor and the "party mayor" might yet emerge as the lucky mayor.

- The Nelson Mail

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