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Everyone has a right to a tipsy dinner

The latest political ‘scandal’ to leapfrog its way across various platforms and social media is Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau’s recent faux pas filled evening.

In videos circulating the web, Whanau is armed with a bottle of wine during a ‘tipsy’ dinner at central Wellington restaurant Old Quarter.

The crime?

Being out in public, a few drinks deep, and allegedly making a “do you know who I am?” comment to a waiter – tantalisingly similar to disgraced MP Aaron Gilmore’s ultimately career-ending actions in 2013.

It’s led to a critical look at the pedestal local politicians are placed on and whether this is ultimately a fair judgement.

Whanau has always claimed she deserves a private life, and that there’s nothing wrong with hitting a couple of bars with mates.

Disagreeing with this sentiment, former mayor Kerry Prendergast has told media that she was “always conscious of how much alcohol she drank at events”.

There’s no such thing as time off, Prendergast insisted, when you’re “the number one citizen, always representing the city”.

Meanwhile, current councillors Laurie Foon and Rebecca Matthews have spoken out in defence of Whanau, with Matthews arguing no one in public life can be expected to be “a complete saint all the time”.

On one side of the coin is an acknowledgement that everyone deserves a degree of privacy and space to have a night out.

Alternatively, there’s the argument that these public figures and politicians sacrifice this privacy when they enter any role involving a public vote.

New Zealand political figures have always enjoyed a drink or two, and there’s usually a story printed about it when that drink inevitably turns to three or four.

Media coverage detailing former North Shore Mayor Andrew William’s wine intake and public urination in 2010 included copious detail of the evening in question, down to the type of wine he was consuming [Porters Syrah].

As NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell writes, these politicians are held to high standards because they’re elected to represent voters.

Anyone who’s worked in evening hospitality can testify that rowdy, alcohol-fuelled bravado and tongue-in-cheek comments are unfortunately part of the gig.

The events pertaining to Whanau’s Friday evening don’t merit a media frenzy on their own, but anyone with a public-facing role inevitably attracts a different level of scrutiny.

[It’s worth noting the difference between a tipsy dinner and the aforementioned public urination].

Interestingly, the Old Quarter is receiving a barrage of criticism online in the name of patron discretion and loyalty.

Maybe this pedestal politicians are plonked on is shrinking in height [and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing].

In a time where constant public surveillance is used to moderate behaviour, there may need to be a shift in intensity.

Perhaps with the way artificial intelligence is heading, one day the city may be represented by a tech-generated hologram official, un-tempted by a few wines on a Friday night.

But for now, it’s people leading people.

They should be held accountable for harmful rhetoric, malicious intent, or inappropriate actions – but for enjoying an evening out with friends?

One can think of worse things.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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