[OPINION] Lester would’ve been hounded either way

The ink had barely dried on the papers of the Dominion Post’s new editorial claiming the mayor had acted with poor judgement in re-opening Wellington’s CBD for business so soon after last week’s 7.8 roller, and already a picture was emerging that detailed the opinions of Wellingtonians. The national broadcaster’s flagship primetime news bulletin 1 NEWS ran with the introductory that the mayor was “coming under fire” – with little evidence pointing to this being the case, past a few comments from pedestrians on Wellington’s streets that were underwhelming in their scrutiny, and soft at best in their criticism.

The large swathe of opinions expressed across social media and on The Dominion Post’s online forum appeared to support or at least ‘feel a little sorry’ for Lester, the former Deputy Mayor who has barely been in the job 10 seconds.

This was Lester’s first big test as mayor of Wellington City. And let’s not underestimate or brush over how much of a test this truly was. For a new mayor, crisp enough so that Lester’s council had only met once as a newly elected body when the earthquake struck, to be confronted with a nationwide disaster is hugely daunting. Not to mention a disaster all Wellington mayors over the past century must have, in the back of their minds, feared and loathed, praying that the destructive and promised ‘big one’ would not strike during their tenure. This may not have been ‘the big one’ – but it was certainly a preview.

The mayor assumed the job of informing residents himself, through his various platforms on social media – Facebook and Twitter. Providing regular live video updates with necessary information, assuming the role of interviewer when speaking to experts, Lester was widely praised by his followers including various Christchurch-quake victims who expressed jealously towards Wellingtonians for the leadership their mayor had showed.

Continuing with his social media updates, it was on Twitter that the mayor announced the CBD would be open for business the following day as checks continued, although in a now overlooked follow-up tweet the mayor insisted workers consult with their employers to check if their respective workplaces were open. Lester claims he made this decision with “strong advice” and it was not his “job to create chaos or fear or hysteria”.

A positive contrast from the media, then.

The reality is the mayor would have faced vigorous scrutiny no matter the decision he made. The Chamber of Commerce would have almost certainly cried ‘interventionist’. With the city in reportedly good shape (1-2% of CBD buildings reporting any damage), the cost of evacuating CBD’s 17,000 residents and the economic loss of keeping an entire city out, the mayor made the correct decision under testing circumstances in their eyes. To infer the mayor didn’t consider safety and lives when making his final call is stupid, and a grasping critique of a man with the job nobody in the city wants.

– Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk

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