Podcast: The Detail

Andy Foster is not just a Peter Jackson puppet

The Detail today looks at the unexpected change in the Wellington Mayoralty - how did Andy Foster win the chains? 

Wellington has a new conservative captain at the helm.

Well, probably - the official result of the finely balanced Wellington mayoralty race is due today, and the loser has two more days to appeal.

Andy Foster, a one-time New Zealand First candidate who’s been on the council for nearly three decades, has come out just 62 votes ahead of incumbent Justin Lester, who - it looks at this stage - has turned out to be a one-term mayor.

Labour-linked Lester has said he’ll ask for a recount if his slim loss stands.

It’s a case of third time lucky for Foster, having run unsuccessfully for mayor twice before.

“It definitely came as a surprise, to Justin Lester himself as well,” says Georgina Campbell, who covers Wellington issues for the New Zealand Herald.

“In 2016 you had Nick Leggett, Justin Lester, Jo Coughlan all going for the top job ... it was a fiery, feisty mayoral race.

“This time around … there was a big quiet space right up until the eleventh hour in terms of competition and mayoral bids.

“The final week for candidates to get nominations in, there was huge speculation that Andy Foster was going to have another crack…

“He said, ‘I’m not going to place a mayoral bid unless I have the resources and backing to do it’.”

Then the resources came, in the form of financial backing from filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson.

Sir Peter was at Foster’s campaign launch, but maintains it was a matter of aligned issues rather than politics.

Campbell says Sir Peter got involved - for the most part - because Foster’s opposition to a controversial development at Shelly Bay lined up with his. Foster and Sir Peter both advocate for a now-scrapped movie museum.

The exact size of Jackson’s donation isn’t known - his spend was counted in a $36,000 pool from a “number of funders” including Jackson.

Foster also received two $10,000 donations, and so his $56,000 spend compares to the $21,000 spent by Lester.

Despite some commentators hinting that Jackson’s money was the reason for Foster’s success, Campbell says it’s not that black and white.

“Money isn’t everything. What we have to put more weight on is Peter Jackson’s profile, celebrity, name recognition. That’s what really put Andy Foster on the map but it’s not what got him across the line.

“I think what was underestimated in this Wellington race was there was a feeling of discontent among Wellingtonians ... they wanted progress, they wanted change, and it didn’t really feel like anything was moving.”

But while Foster and Lester have vastly different political backgrounds - they “couldn’t be more different,” says Campbell - the make-up of the rest of the council means it’s unlikely he’ll be able to radically change Wellington’s direction.

“On Wellington’s city council you’ve got a very left lean ... there are three councillors who’ve been elected on Labour ticket, and three on the Green ticket.

“At this point Foster doesn’t have the numbers to charge through all the decisions that he’d want to make.”

While Foster’s already planning meetings with other mayors and government ministers, he won’t officially be mayor until the recount is complete.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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