WCC Election 2019: Simon Woolf for Mayor?

The rumour that won’t go away. Simon Woolf is going to throw his hat in the ring for the Mayoralty. It’s all over town, and the consensus is that if anyone could beat Justin Lester, it’s Simon.

Simon Woolf is a Councillor in the Western Ward. He’s a photographer by trade with a well-established business and is very, very well-known across Wellington. He’s quite passionate, which lands him in trouble frequently with the Mayor and CEO, which gives him an air of the underdog. When you meet him, you can see his personality come through in spades. And a lot of us have met him, given those terrible family portraits are a necessity.

But could he win? With Justin running on a high and no other candidates declaring their intention to run, Justin is a tough opponent. I think Simon has a better than average chance to take the chair for a variety of reasons, but politics is fickle, and strengths often become weaknesses in an electoral year.

Simon has great social media reach, more than most Councillors. Justin has better, the mayoralty comes with some fame, so this is understandable. We know that in an election people generally vote for a face they trust and a name they recognise, at least the vast majority do. Simon is certainly well-known, and while I can’t comment on his face, this would work in his favour.

He is often brutally transparent, and while this gets him in trouble with the WCC political machine, it works for the residents. In an organisation which has a perceived transparency problem, leading to a lack of trust, Simon sticks out as honest if somewhat foolhardy.

For example, you can see it here in action in a Facebook post from July 2016, where he is talking about the issues of a “toxic culture” following two Dominion Post articles.

I thought I could make a difference, and bring a more collaborative cohesive approach to council. To a degree there is collaboration, however there isn’t a sense of team, and much on the collaborative side of things takes quite some effort. I have tried my best. At times it has been so frustrating!

There are a lot more areas that are agreed on, than aren’t, however when disagreement does occurs it has been often bitter. Lines are drawn, and often certain Councillors overstep. Some Councillors have been overstepping for a considerable time too! The culture has developed where certain Councillors get away with things as there are no consequences for poor behavior. That has really surprised me. When there are no consequences the discipline and focus goes. Personalities become egocentric, and forget why they are Councillors. It becomes about them, and not the city. It guts me!

Simon Woolf – Facebook

Simon has been seen as the underdog at times having had many a run in with the Mayor and the CEO of the WCC. The Council has long had allegations of a toxic culture hanging over its head, though granted nothing in recent times.

Simon got himself caught up in that media shambles last year after it was alleged he criticised Council staff publicly. That led to the CEO of the WCC slamming Simon, hard. Here are some excerpts from the article, which you need to read for completeness.

In an email sent to Woolf and Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, Lavery berates Woolf for getting involved in operational matters, which “raised code of conduct issues”.

But his main gripe was with Woolf’s public criticism of council staff and officers, which used emotive and inflammatory language and caused needless stress and anxiety for the staff.

He was concerned about the extent to which Woolf had involved himself in individual employment matters, particularly the restructure of democracy services, and recent health and safety issues in community services.

Lavery was also concerned about Woolf’s involvement in legal proceedings regarding the development of Shelly Bay, where Woolf was privy to “without prejudice” information and had injected himself in matters currently before the court

“These are all operational issues and all are in a delicate position. There is a real risk that you end up getting dragged into legal issues. I want to avoid that.”

Building a trusted relationship with councillors would be difficult if Woolf’s pattern of conduct continued, he said.

On Wednesday, Woolf said he still took issue with quite a lot of the comments in Lavery’s email, and he had told Lavery the email was unfair and unreasonable.

Woolf was still seeking the information he requested about how the council “handled itself” with Shelly Bay and Frank Kitts Park.

Dominion Post

In the background, Simon received a large amount of support from his resident base, with most falling on his side in the matter. The underdog label had been created.

It appears there is little love lost between Simon and Justin, with Simon threatening to resign his portfolios last year. This came after, once again, being slammed by being outspoken, again, regarding the impact of weekend parking on businesses.

Meanwhile, Wellington City councillor Simon Woolf, who voted against the weekend fees, said he had been approached by Harbourside Market stallholders who said their businesses had taken a hit in recent weeks.

Woolf said he was approached by about six vendors while visiting the weekly Sunday market, near Te Papa, two weeks after parking fees were introduced.

“I was there with my family. I’ve never seen it so empty.”

The parking fees were a double blow for some businesses because their rents had also recently been put up, Woolf said.

Dominion Post

So Simon has created a perception that he is all for the residents and not too shy to open his mouth and say exactly what he thinks. Generally, people like that approach, because it plays to their sense of rebellion against an organisation which has negative perceptions attached to it.

We all know that there are no consequences to that outspoken style. Rather like the United Nations, the Mayor and CEO are left writing grumpy letters and not much more. That ensures that Simon, and other Councillors for that matter, can continue to spout publicly as they see fit about issues, they think are important.

That was a long-winded way of saying that Simon is seen to be on the side of the residents, not the Council, and I think it shows some of the character of the person and how he operates.

Simon probably needs to declare himself as running for the mayoralty, now. There are very few weeks left before voting kicks off and getting out there now is critical. He probably should have declared back in February if he indeed is intending to run.

Another helping hand should he indeed run, is the absolute lack of other contenders. Even though Justin won last time around, tens of thousands of votes were split across multiple candidates for the mayoralty. It would work to Simon’s advantage if there were fewer candidates for the chair, forcing polarisation of people.

The fact that Simon is independent ordinarily would be an advantage, however, with Labour running reasonably high in the polls, Justin will pick up the Labour party faithful voting base. If the government were less popular, the reverse would happen, but they are not.

If I were Simon, and I intended to run, I’d name my deputy up front. In this case, that would have to be Diane Calvert. The two are as thick as thieves, independent, and Diane has some of that outspoken style as well. The two compliment each other naturally.

Simon has an advantage in as much as he has nothing to lose and everything to gain, whereas Justin has a lot to lose. Simon can be outspoken, within reason, and as I mentioned has a platform with good reach to a large audience. That platform is important, because it lowers the cost of running for Mayor, significantly, while Justin on the other hand cannot use any official platforms to run, because that might break electoral rules.

Justin, on the other hand, must continue not only to wear the mayoral chains but also submit to the Labour party on policy. That’s tough. The one thing he will not want is a scandal between now and election day.

That one weak point for Justin could be Shelly Bay, that is generating so much smoke right now that there must be some fire underneath. Plus, he’s raised the ire of someone who has a super-massive platform and is exercising it, Peter Jackson. But that’s for another article.