Monday, December 29, 2008

The Aucklander asks: Is the Mayor Mad?

Bless Ed Rooney and The Aucklander for their indepth interview of Andrew Williams.

To ensure the article lives forever, we cut and pasted the transcript below.

M E E T . . .

By Edward Rooney

His behaviour is described variously as
overbearing, controlling, heavy-handed.

The man about whom these words have
been used doesn't flinch as I put the
descriptions to him.
He does, however, twitch. A lot.

Andrew Williams has been in the job for 12
months and had time to stamp his style on the
mayoralty of New Zealand's fourth largest city.

He left his role as Trade Commissioner representing
Belgium in New Zealand when he was
elected in October last year.

In his short stint at
the helm, the 49-year-old has been at the centre
of some strange episodes.

In August he famously collapsed after a couple
of wines during a naval reception in Devonport
and came up, fists swinging, at ambulance
officers trying to revive him.

He issued a press release denouncing a media
conspiracy against him and the mayoralty after
the Sunday Star-Times asked how much he had
paid for new couches for the councillors' lounge.

His late-night emails - reporting everything
from a Lamborghini parked on yellow lines on
Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna's main drag, to a cafe
that failed to recognise the mayor and mayoress -
have been widely circulated. To guffaws and

More recently, he confronted trustees of the
North Shore Events Centre after they opposed a
Youthtown bid to set up a new venue.

He clarifies a few matters as I revisit these
episodes, such as the fact that patients frequently
lash out when given sternum rubs and the cafe is
next door to the council headquarters. But he is
unrepentant about his outburst to the events
centre trustees.

"In my view, they don't have a vision that is
compatible with other members of my
council," he states.

"I've had a lot to do with Youthtown, I've been to a lot of their events, they are the sort of organisation we want to encourage."

I point out that Basketball NZ president Barbara
Wheadon was "shocked" by his behaviour.

"They got a good ticking-off," he nods. "They
were being selfish. She probably doesn't like
having fingers shaken at her."

Is that the way the mayor should talk to
people? "When I know people are right out of
line and being selfish."

His side of the conversation took about "a
minute and a half". He wanted to point out that
the board had let down the youth of North
Shore. "I said: 'You really need to take a look at

Seated in the Mayoral Lounge at the city
council chambers, I can take a good look at

He's formally dressed in a suit, with a red tie
that has been over-tightened. He clutches a sheaf
of papers in his right hand. His left hand makes
karate-chopping motions on the armrest to
underscore his comments.

The mayor's legs are stretched straight in front
of him, crossed at the ankles. He's never completely
still and there's a frequent jerking spasm
right down his legs.

I ask him if he is mad. He sighs and looks at
the ceiling before returning to my gaze with a
goofy smile and a shrug.

"Ah, I guess everyone would say you have to
be kind of mad to want to be a mayor."

He frowns, and his boyish look morphs into something
much older.

I ask if he has the support of his council
officers and managers and whether they share his

"It's coming," he says. "It's getting
there. It's filtering through."

His shrugging and wavering eye-contact
undermine the confidence in his words. But he
comes into much firmer focus when talking
about his political opponents.

"They are very active," he says, darkly.
"They have some of the media behind them. Factions
are running to the Sunday Star-Times and they
are making frivolous accusations."

How does that feel, Andrew? "I get pretty sick
of it."

He talks about making big progress across the
city. He talks with pride about gains at Albany
Senior High School and Birkenhead Library.

Both were held up by Environment Court action
but he happily claims credit for their eventual

I ask if he's overburdened himself by making
every citizen's concern his personal responsibility.

"I probably took on more than I probably
should, but I don't believe in farming it all off."

I ask about the wisdom of sending emails late
at night, and whether some of his comments
might be better kept to himself.

"I work 24 hours. If I'm awake, I'm active. I've
been in international trade for 30 years, working
in different time zones."

Williams refers frequently to his mayoral
predecessor George Wood. Most is
uncomplimentary. But he also talks in similarly
unglowing terms about people on the current
council, three in particular.

"I don't have a lot of patience for fence-sitters
and procrastinators," he proclaims.

He describes these same people as "very
active" in their campaigns against him. But he
will "gradually immobilise them".

His secretary knocks at the door and enters
quietly to tell the mayor his next appointment
has arrived. He thanks her and continues to
outline several projects that have benefited directly from his intervention.

Our strict 30-minute interview has taken all
but an hour by the time I make to leave. Instead,
he insists I view the couches the Sunday Star-
Times inquired about.

I suggest he should put a plaque on them to
mark their significance.
He doesn't laugh.

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