20 October 2013

Mayor in an affair

It’s difficult to keep up with the outpouring of accusations, denials, confessions and startling revelations arising from the ‘Mayor in an affair’ story.
Many political commentators are concerned that this saga could signal the beginning of a gloves-off scandal-driven political culture in this country. Such gutter politics has (largely) been avoided in NZ – except when the facts get rubbed in the public's noses and there's no ignoring it any longer, or when a politician takes the moral high-ground on family issues and invites exposure for hypocrisy. Personal lives of public figures are normally out of bounds, except by invitation. But there comes a point at which they make themselves relevant and newsworthy, like it or not.
If potential scandal-mongers are watching this episode closely, though, it should warn them that personalised gutter-politics can blow up in your face as the media start to ask you about your motives. Eventually, you may find, for instance, that you are having to deny that there was any conspiracy or political intent. And, as any politician will tell you, explaining and denying are more or less the same as losing.
The right-wing blogger who published the sordidly detailed story is denying to the NZ Herald that there was any 'plot' to unseat the newly re-elected Mayor. So, let me take the blogger at his word that there was no plot. There was just an approach from an individual (Mr Wewege) who happened to belong to Mr Palino's campaign team. And, if there was no plot, then I suppose there was no strategic political purpose to the release of the story either. The right-wing blogger's motive was merely to expose Mr Brown. The bad publicity would 'shame him [Mr Brown] into resigning,' to quote the blogger himself. But no, there was no plot to get rid of Mr Brown. There was only some damning evidence that we, the voters, needed to know about. And there was certainly no plot to favour Mr Palino or any other right-wing pretender to the mayoralty.
In any case, the blogger could not have been thinking clearly enough to formulate anything as sophisticated as a plot, because he apparently didn't anticipate that the whole mess would blow back in his face.
Similarly, Mr Palino’s strenuous denial that his secretive car-park meeting with Ms Chuang was part of a plot to unseat the Mayor may be taken at face value, for the time being.
He does invite a chorus of ‘yeah, right!’ Mr Palino's and Ms Chuang's accounts of the car-park conversation differ quite markedly. But the mayoral scandal has done as much damage to Palino’s prospects in politics as it has to Brown’s. So it’s plausible to suppose that Palino (if he has an ounce of common sense) would not have encouraged the release of the details of Brown’s amorous conduct. Plausible, but there's still oodles of room for scepticism. His story about how much he knew about the affair before the publicity, seems to have changed.
As for Mr Brown, he has a few questions to answer too, but it’s best to await the report of the Council’s inquiry before we pass judgement. I’d like to know if, at the time he recommended Ms Chuang for a job at the art gallery, Mr Brown knew about her criminal conviction for actions she took as a former employee at the museum.


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