OPINION: Is Len Brown's integrity as Auckland's mayor now shot? Most likely it won't be any formal inquiry that decides the issue. It will be the standards, sensibilities and tolerances of the people he represents.
Promptly after what seemed Mr Brown's oh-so-emphatic return to office, a two-year-extramarital relationship with Bevan Chuang stands disclosed.
Secondly, among the many less-than-edifying aspects of this story is that the lurid componentry goes beyond the affair itself to the conduct of others including those applying pressure on Ms Chuang to go public.
She now says she felt pressured to reveal the affair by a more recent lover, Luigi Wewege, who was an election team member of Mr Brown's mayoralty rival, John Palino. Mr Wewege denies this but Facebook messages appear to show him wheedling and smarming to that end.
Mr Brown now faces council inquiry into not just code of conduct issues but also conflict of interest. He was a referee for Ms Cheung when she successfully sought a job at a council-run art gallery.
People will make their own assessments on the morality of the adultery to which Mr Brown has now confessed, and how widely significant they will hold it to be. These views will vary.
It's true that he was elected to public office, not sainthood, and that were we to disqualify people who had had affairs from national or local office it would cut a swath through their ranks. But it's a thorny issue whether people will be minded to compartmentalise the areas in which they will accept untrustworthiness.
The timing of the revelations is intriguing in itself. Ms Chuang resisted entering the maelstrom during the election, when anyone in Mr Palino's camp would most have wanted her to come out. But then she was herself an unsuccessful candidate in the Auckland local body elections so her own political ambitions were also at stake at the time.
Mr Palino denies any knowledge of the Brown affair, let alone any attempts to capitalise on it. Amid the many dark corners still remaining in this issue then is who, exactly, dispatched texts warning Ms Chuang and others against going public - texts said to have been not just cautionary, but intimidatory.
The story was broken in Cameron Slater's Whaleoil blog. His father John Slater acted as Mr Palino's campaign manager, but denies knowledge of the affair or involvement with the website story.
For his part the younger Mr Slater denies knowing, when he used the story, of Ms Chuang's affair with Mr Wewege. He makes no bones about it that he was up for doing Mr Brown - of whom he had long been archly critical - political damage, and says that had he been able to use the story during the campaign he would have. When he denies that this is a "vast Right-wing conspiracy" he is probably right. The word "vast" can seldom be applied to anything of such boutique dimensions as New Zealand politics.
But in this case, replete as it seems to be with both admissions and denials of bad behaviour, there is legitimate public interest that goes beyond tawdry human failings and into the more malevolent issues of political powerplays.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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