30 Nov 2023

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau 'open and honest' in admitting drinking problem

9:19 am on 30 November 2023
Tory Whanau

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau. File photo Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Green MP Julie Anne Genter has slammed the media over "double standards" for airing stories about Wellington mayor Tory Whanau being drunk in public.

In response to questions on Wednesday from RNZ about an incident earlier this month at a Wellington bar, the mayor admitted she had a problem with alcohol and was getting professional help.

Several council sources have confirmed the mayor was at a popular establishment with friends late on a Saturday afternoon two weeks ago where her drunken antics were captured on video.

Genter, the MP for Rongotai, told Morning Report she had full confidence in the mayor, who was previously the Green Party's chief of staff.

"She's doing a great job as mayor, you know, and I think it's kind of shocking that the media are putting such a focus on this woman for, you know, one or two things when, you know, we've had male politicians who are regularly drunk in public for decades and who never get any sort of criticism for it."

It was "a big distraction" she said, "one that's being driven by people who don't have the best interests of the city, and Mayor Whanau does have the best interests of the city at heart and she is working hard for that".

Support from around the country

Whanau said she has received hundreds of messages of support after admitting to having a drinking problem.

Whanau told RNZ she was deeply thankful for the support and was looking forward to getting stuck back into the mahi.

She hoped others who might be struggling with alcohol issues could see that there was support out there also.

People were able to seek help and still commit to their passions, work, family, friends in a way that was meaningful.

"We are complex, layered people and deserving of love. I am here for all of us."

Wellington City Council chief executive Barbara McKerrow said she would support the mayor.

"I care for her wellbeing and will be working with her office to ensure that she gets the care that she needs."

In an earlier written statement to RNZ, the mayor said she had a problem with alcohol. She had sought counsel from friends, family and colleagues and has since sought professional help, she said.

In July, Whanau made a public pledge to change her drinking habits after admitting she was "tipsy" when she skipped out without paying a restaurant bill. She described it as a misunderstanding.

"I think she is a mayor Wellington can be proud of and I think we can be ever more proud of her being open and honest about the problems she's having," Councillor Rebecca Matthews said.

"I just wish actually more people in public life would be a bit honest about the struggles that they face because these are hard jobs and whatever problems you have, they do come to the surface."

Matthews said she had not seen any evidence of the mayor's drinking problem affecting her work.

"I have seen her be professional and a decent leader. These are not issues that have come into the workplace that I have seen but none of us is perfect.

"This is a hard job and any normal person would struggle in such a difficult role and with such a high level of scrutiny."

'You have to be at the top of your game'

Councillor Diane Calvert has been a fierce critic of the mayor, and said she was surprised by Wednesday's public admission of her struggles with alcohol.

"I hope she's getting the help she needs and as an organisation we will be supporting her, but I think the key thing is that as a mayor you do have quite a specialist role, and in particular if there is an emergency you have certain powers, and so we need to make sure we also keep our city safe going forward."

Calvert would not say whether she had confidence in Whanau being able to continue in the job and said councillors still had not had time to discuss what it all meant.

"You do have to be at the top of your game because it's going to be no easy task in balancing our budgets going forward. We're going to have to make some cuts we're going to have to prioritise, so we need to be fully aware of all the facts and making the best decisions we can for the people of Wellington," Calvert said.

Other councillors have taken to social media to express their sympathy with the mayor.

In a tweet on X, councillor Nīkau Wi Neera said public life in New Zealand can be tough.

"Mayor Whanau has done a great job in her first year in office, delivering transport infrastructure, increasing funding to fix pipes, and finding innovative ways to finally revitalise the city centre. We support her all the way,", the post said.

Former councillor and newly-elected Green MP for Wellington Tamatha Paul said on Instagram: "This changing the world thing is brutal. Especially if you are a wahine Māori. Sending all my love and support to our mayor, who is kind, brave and has a lot to give to our city."

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