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Lessons from America: How politicians carry on after the extra-marital affair

New Zealand waited for weeks for Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay to release the findings of a report into whether Mayor Len Brown used council resources during his extramarital affair.

It was expected to take four weeks. It took seven.

Sex scandals can often pin a defining moment in a politician's career. The key, for many, is what they are known for before a career in politics and where their careers take them post-scandal.

Which raises the question: What is Len Brown known for?

As an American, I’m used to sex scandals in politics. It’s as American as hookers on the Las Vegas strip and gay pride parades in San Francisco. Since the advent of 24-hour cable news networks, there is nothing that gets more ratings than a politician with his high-priced hooker or low-priced intern.

I’ve watched myriad of them hang their heads in shame at press conferences and apologise to their constituents and families. Some resign; some carry on.

Here in New Zealand, some politicians are clamouring for Mr Brown’s removal. Others are saying to leave him alone and let him finish the job he’s started.

He has demonstrated past improprieties as Manukau mayor and, now, Auckland Council has spent an estimated $100,000 on the EY report looking into the use of ratepayer funds during his personal romps.

The report found questionable use of his council-issued telephone and undeclared free hotel rooms. 

It’s going to be difficult for him to trump this media coverage with good deeds if he decides to carry on as mayor. Not impossible, but difficult.

In 2010, the New Zealand Herald wrote Mr Brown “is relatively unknown outside Manukau.”  That same article details the use of government resources for personal gain, a credit card he used to buy coffee.

Whether he decides to complete his term as mayor or redirect his career from politics, perhaps there are a few examples from the US he can learn from.

Before his tenure as the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for his career in bodybuilding and later as a Hollywood star. Last year he finally admitted that his affair with his housekeeper wasn’t a great idea.

His affair is probably the most boring story of his career. This week, he rode a toy horse in a department store and the non-event got media coverage.

While serving as governor, Mr Schwarzenegger refused to take the $US175,000 salary and he served office for free. According to the Auckland Council website, the mayor makes a base salary of $NZ251,010.

If you ask Californians what Mr Schwarzenegger was known for, they’ll say his cigar-smoking tent outside the capitol and the time he called legislators “girlie men” for not balancing the state’s budget on time.

I’m not suggesting that Mr Brown start doing push-ups in a bid for Mr Universe but perhaps he could think about his use of ratepayer funds a bit more.

In March 2008, Elliot Spitzer resigned as governor of New York after being exposed as a member of a private prostitution service. He apologised and immediately withdrew from public office.

Before his career in politics, Mr Spitzer was known as a no-nonsense prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. He launched the investigation which led to the fall of the Gambino crime family.

He was hailed as a hero before his fall from grace.

After he resigned, he scored a contract as a political commentator for CNN and, later, a short-lived talk show.

This year, he was finally ready to run for office again. He lost a bid in September for New York City comptroller.

Perhaps Mr Brown could consider a career as an NBR political contributor, should he shy away voters.

And, drumroll please, the most famous of all American intern-lovers is former US President Bill Clinton. No one will forget Monica Lewinsky, the cigar and the blue dress, especially not Hillary.

What Americans will also never forget is President Clinton’s reign over the most prosperous period of recent US history coupled with the lowest unemployment. 

So Mr Brown, if you continue to carry on as mayor of New Zealand’s largest city, financial hub and gateway to the outside world, my question for you: What will your legacy be?

The decision is still up to you.

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