Support for Wellington mayor Tory Whanau after admitting alcohol problem

There is support from Wellington city councillors for mayor Tory Whanau who has admitted she has a problem with alcohol after another incident of drunken behaviour in public.

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.

In a 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 was surprised by yesterday'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 to time to discuss what it all meant.

"You do have to be at the top of your game because its 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."