WCC Watch has woken from its slumber with the stirrings of the 2016 Mayoral campaign evident. Two time loser and municipal Walter Mitty Jack Yan declared last month, and first term councillor Nicola Young has made her ambitions clear, including fresh graphics on her German Corolla.
However, the big talking point is the growing view that Celia Wade-Brown won’t run for re-election, with many noting she hasn’t shown up for significant events like turning the first sod for the new Whitireia/Weltec campus, or the opening of the revamped Wellington Central Fire Station.
Instead she’s sent Deputy Head Boy, Justin Lester. Normally you’d expect the Mayor to attend, so she’s either jacking up her protege for a crack at the chains, or she really does think judging gluten-free quinoa cup cakes at a school gala is a bigger deal than bringing the city together to get the new Cuba Central campus off to a flying start.
While we’ve never given her much credit for her political skill, you don’t complete multiple decades on Council without some effort and it does seem more likely that the Mayor is giving Lester the proverbial leg up.
Lester famously wants to be Labour Prime Minister by the age of 50, and with ambition like that he will take no prisoners and jump at the chance to piggy back on Celia to assist his thirst for high office.
There are some small hurdles though. Lester’s politics aren’t transparent as he has always run as an independent and not acknowledged his Party membership. Labour is a far more partisan beast than most parties, and to win nominations, candidates need to be overtly loyal to the cause.
For someone who sees himself in the same mould as Fraser, Lange and Clark he doesn’t seem tribally Labour, he seems a far cry from Paul Eagle who wears red ties, drives a shitty red car, and proudly keeps the red flag flying in the lightest of winds.
It has irked many in Labour that he distanced himself from the Party when the polls didn’t look good, even apparently refusing to stand in Ohariu when the going was tough. Also voting for Ratepayers to fund the Council’s Living Wage, while not adopting it at his food chain.
Celia’s backing will also only get him so far too and Lester will know he faces an issue with his profile. While he is obviously well known around City Hall – most people in Wellington would struggle to name the Deputy. He has never really made much of an impression in the Councillor ratings by The Wellingtonian which was somewhat dominated by Eagle and Young.
Another big question is whether being Mayor will help or hinder Lester’s bigger ambitions? There are very few examples of it being a step stone to Parliament in recent history. Kerry Prendergast tried and failed at making the jump, Blumsky was invisible in Parliament – and in the current National Caucus, Jono Naylor and Ian whats-his-name from Rangitikei are hardly household names or heavy hitters, yet arrived with Mayoral chain bling.
If he is serious about his prime ministerial ambitions then maybe doing the hard yards against Peter Dunne’s quiff is where Lester should focus – even if the Johnsonville nightlife isn’t quite as colourful as he is accustomed.