Former Far North mayor and 'fixit' man Wayne Brown, pictured with his wife Toni today, is the new Mayor of Auckland. Photo Lucy Xia/RNZ

Anti-establishment candidate Wayne Brown claims victory in the Auckland mayoralty, ending the centre-left’s dominance of the super city’s leadership

Wayne Brown has swept past the incumbent councillor Efeso Collins to seize the Auckland mayoral chains and move to slim down the council organisation, reduce debt and limit works projects causing congestion, delays and cost-over-runs.

The 76 year-old former mayor of the Far North District leads the progress results with 144,619 votes, ahead of his nearest challenger Collins by 54,808. About 85 to 90 percent of votes have been counted since voting closed at midday today in an historically-low turnout.

Just 31.1 percent of those eligible voted, down from 35.3 and 38.5 percent in the two previous elections. Efeso Collins’ political base in south Auckland had the lowest turnouts, ranging from 19.6 percent in part of Otara, with Papatoetoe, Manurewa and Mangere just over the 20 percent mark, heading to 23.5 percent in Papakura.

Brown said Auckland voters had “sent the clearest possible message to Auckland Council, and central government in Wellington”, and promised that they would be heard.

“At more than 300 campaign events over the last six months, Aucklanders have made clear to me and fellow candidate Efeso Collins that you love our city, but that you know much of it is broken. It is now up to me, the new governing body and the local boards to act on our mandate, fix what is broken and deliver the change you demand.”

Brown said the number one issue was transport, followed closely by crime, unfinished projects and endless red cones, rising costs and council waste.

“Let me be very clear: Wellington’s job is to listen to what Aucklanders say are our priorities, and to fund them – not impose ideological schemes like the $30 billion airport tram, untrammelled housing intensification and Three Waters on a city that doesn’t want them. 

“There is a mandate for change and my job as mayor is to lead it.”

Early in the campaign he told one audience: “I probably intend to do more change than you are expecting.”

On early counts he may have a council more weighted to the centre-right, with a key race in Eden-Albert-Puketāpapa ward to replace retiring centre-left councillor Cathy Casey going on the progress results to Communities and Residents candidate Will McKenzie by 286 votes over prominent City Vision candidate Julie Fairey.

And in the Waitematā ward, former councillor Mike Lee (who was backed by C&R) is ahead of another City Vision leader and incumbent councillor Pippa Coom by 1250 votes.

A keenly contested battle in the Whau ward has seen the C&R councillor Tracy Mulholland hold off Labour’s Kerrin Leoni by 150 votes – which would shore up a more centre-right shade to the new council.

In the west, however, a West Wards candidate Ken Turner is leading incumbent councillor Linda Cooper, a vote the centre-right would have hoped to count towards majority on a Brown-led council. 

Former National cabinet minister Maurice Williamson won a council seat in Howick, edging incumbent Paul Young.

On progress results, there would be approximately 12 councillors of the 20 who could be viewed as centre-right, one possibly leaning their way – Turner who is opposed to Three Waters and pledged to fight the council’s “extravagant costs” – and seven for the centre-left.  That mix would be encouraging for Brown and his team.

Efeso Collins offered his congratulations on Twitter, wishing Brown “every success in this blessed role as Mayor of Auckland”.

“U have my full support and thanks for being so respectful and robust during rue campaign. All the best.” 

Brown came through a crowded field on the centre right to outlast first Leo Molloy, then Viv Beck and pass Collins in the final two major public opinion polls. In the end, he secured a comfortable win and will see a mandate for his vision of a smaller council while retaining key services.

He spoke frequently during the campaign about the council being in financial problems, with too much debt and un-costed liabilities like the potential cost increase for the City Rail Link project.

When he enters the mayoral office, he will face a public expectation that he will come clean with ratepayers about the extent of the council’s exposure to the underground rail project.

Brown was hesitant during the campaign to promise a set figure limit to annual rates, saying he wanted to open the council’s books, analyse the numbers and then know what was possible in terms of spending and revenue raising.

He has opposed the council’s existing plans for extended cycleways, and the proposed Central Government-funded $14 billion Light Rail project from the central city to Māngere via Mt Roskill.

And he wants to force the Ports of Auckland company to start paying 6 percent of the value of the land that it uses on the downtown waterfront in a form of annual dividend, a measure he suggests could raise $400m a year. That calculation was dismissed by his opponents, including Beck and Collins, and questioned by property industry figures.

Other policies advocated by Brown include:

– sacking the directors from ‘all’ of the boards of the council controlled organisations, starting with Auckland Transport

– abolishing the council’s development firm Eke Panuku, which is upgrading suburban centres such as Northcote, Panmure and Avondale;

– abolishing Auckland Unlimited, the council owned business targeted with driving events, tourism and economic development

– cutting the amount spent per metre on cycleways, advancing regional busways in the west and east 

– sitting down with all councillors one-to-one and trying to convince them to focus on ‘the numbers’ in budgets before decisions are made

– using the 2023 election year for the central government to put pressure on ministers and others to deliver on measures to reduce crime and fund Auckland-favoured projects

Brown served two terms as Far North Mayor but was ousted by former National MP John Carter in 2013 after a critical Auditor-General report into Brown’s mismanagement of his private and council roles.

Before that he was chair of Vector, the Auckland District Health Board and Transpower as those organisations reformed and managed major infrastructure projects.

Other progress results show Tim Shadbolt losing heavily in Invercargill, with former deputy mayor Nobby Clark winning the top job in Invercargill, with broadcaster Marcus Lush conceding in a tweet.

Results also show Rangitikei Mayor Andy Watson has won his fourth term in office, while Neil Brown has been re-elected Mayor of Ashburton by a large majority. Nigel Bowen looks to be re-elected as Timaru mayor.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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