Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has spoken about the challenges of the publicity storm surrounding her private life but says she is committed to serving the people of the capital.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, the first Whanau has given since confirming publicly she has an alcohol problem, she acknowledged there were rumours related to her actions on a Saturday last month at a Wellington bar.
But she also said publicly admitting to having a problem was a huge weight off her shoulders.
"It’s similar to the experience of others who go through this. Once they can admit something like that to themselves, and get professional help, and then letting others in to support you, it’s a very lifting experience.
“So, there’s been a lot of positive out of this.”
Whanau wouldn’t speculate on gossip or be drawn on details about the night in question.
“There are rumours out there of what happened that did not happen. There’s a lot of speculation but all I can say is I was out, I was intoxicated, and I shortly admitted to a drinking problem.
“But I’m not worried about anything else, I’m just worried about serving Wellington.”
The rumour mill in Wellington has been sent into overdrive by unverified reports of a video of Whanau at Havana Bar on November 18.
The Herald has not seen the video alleged to be circulating in the public domain nor has it spoken to anyone who has seen it.
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Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau during her first interview since admitting she has a problem with alcohol. Photo / Mark Mitchell
In a statement last week, Whanau said: “After an incident where I was drunk in public, which to my great embarrassment and shame seems to have been recorded, I sought counsel from my friends, family and colleagues and have since sought professional help.”
In Whanau’s interview with the Herald, it was unclear whether she believes a video exists but confirmed she had not seen one.
Whanau would not disclose exactly what happened at the bar, who she was with, or why she was there, other than to say the thing she was embarrassed about was being intoxicated.
“There wasn’t like an incident that I was embarrassed about, it was more that my personal journey has been made public and that in itself was quite challenging for me.
“But at the same time, I’m glad that I have been honest with Wellington.”
Whanau said her drinking problem has not affected her professional dealings with people and she had not come to work hungover or been forced to cancel morning appointments because of it during her tenure as mayor.
Councillor Nicola Young has called for Whanau’s resignation, voicing concerns about residents losing trust and confidence in the council. Other councillors share concerns about Whanau’s ability to hold the city’s top job.
Whanau said she had “absolutely not” considered resigning at any point in recent weeks and remained committed to serving three terms as mayor if she is re-elected.
“It’s been a very challenging year overall. It’s almost like all the things that could have happened in a public political career have happened in one year.”
The experience has made her more resilient and stronger, she said.
Whanau disagreed the alcohol problem had affected trust and confidence in the council and said people had posted on her Instagram begging her not to resign.
She said the leaking of confidential information, like details about the future of the shut-up Reading Cinema building, was what caused people to lose trust.
“While me and others need to lift our game, make no mistake about that, I remain a committed, passionate and enthusiastic mayor for the city. It’s [the mayoralty] just not something that I’m willing to give up.”
Whanau declined to comment on the nature of her relationship with alcohol, when she sought professional help, or the type of help she was getting.
She said these questions were “quite personal”.
However, Whanau did confirm she planned to completely give up drinking.
“This will be sobriety and I will be leading a sober life and I’ll be getting the professional help to help me manage that.”
Whanau said she looked forward to getting better and focusing on the needs of Wellingtonians.
Georgina Campbell is a Wellington-based reporter who has a particular interest in local government, transport, and seismic issues. She joined the Herald in 2019 after working as a broadcast journalist.
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