Leo Molloy’s communications manager Kate Gourdie and a well-connected social media agency resign after the Auckland mayoral candidate decides to re-orient his campaign.
The turbulence buffeting Leo Molloy’s mayoral campaign is not subsiding. If anything, it is intensifying.
Since his Campaign Committee Chair June McCabe stepped down a month ago, the former restaurateur has been lighting and fighting fires on multiple fronts.
His expletive-ridden interview with comedian Guy Williams was undeniably funny but his opponents seized on it as another example of behaviour unbecoming of someone running for public office.
Molloy’s aggression, whether mock or real, reared up again at a debate hosted by the Penrose Business Association. When he was heckled, Molloy threatened to give the interjector a slap.
Then there was the strange business of Molloy and Efeso Collins seemingly owning each other’s domain name. A swap apparently solved this rather murky issue.
More recently Molloy slammed the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance over an advertisement they placed in the New Zealand Herald claiming his policies made him “unaffordable” as Mayor.
And last week a video of Molloy sitting alongside Destiny Church leaders, Brian and Hannah Tamaki, appeared on Twitter. In it, Molloy criticised the lockdowns, suggests Covid-19 isn’t as dangerous as the media have reported and hit out at the Government’s pandemic responses.
When questioned by Newshub, Molloy (who is vaccinated) said he had met Hannah Tamaki through the hospitality industry and strongly disagreed with her and her husband’s views on vaccinations and civil disruption.
In the midst of this chaos, losing his media manager three months out from the election can hardly be ideal for Molloy.
Gourdie, known in media circles for her forthrightness, gave only the briefest of explanations in a written statement to Newsroom.
“As Leo is taking a new approach to media relations and communications, I believe it is a good time for someone else to step in and run it so I can pursue other opportunities. I am proud that, together, the team delivered two very good poll results for Leo, that show this race is his to lose. I wish him all the best with his campaign,” she said.
McCabe and Gourdie’s decisions to leave are likely to have revolved around risk management of their own careers.
McCabe, a professional Company Director, would have been worried about how the big end of town was viewing Molloy’s antics.
Gourdie might have been concerned that Molloy’s volatile interactions with journalists and media organisations were starting to impact relationships she has spent years nurturing.
Leap of faith
Her decision to work for Molloy was, in many ways, a leap of faith. Would Molloy listen to advice or just go his own way?
When Gourdie started work for Molloy in March, she told Newsroom that her decision was based on her interest in “learning more about politics.” No doubt the chance to work alongside Molloy’s Campaign Manager Matt McCarten, a highly experienced political operative, was a drawcard.
When asked about Gourdie’s departure, McCarten told Newsroom Molloy’s campaign was being “reorientated.”
“We only had people on contracts until July and it was always our plan to review things at this point. Everyone’s job is changing, including mine. No one is being pushed out and Kate could have renewed if she wanted to,” he said.
McCarten says that Molloy’s incendiary interview with Williams had been pivotal in the campaign’s decision to re-evaluate its strategy.
What started as a poke at the politics of the woke left ended up in an over-the-top rant. Molloy’s constant swearing, grabbing of Williams’ and his own genitals, and a seeming obsession with discovering the age at which Williams lost his virginity left many viewers feeling uncomfortable.
Molloy’s most vociferous opponent, Wayne Brown, dived in saying the Mayor of Auckland “should be a serious, dignified role, that represents and leads our city on the national and global stage, and fixes difficult and complex problems – Mr Molloy is not fit for the job.”
Brown suggested that Molloy needed “professional help.”
McCarten sees it differently.
“It got everyone’s attention. The early part of a campaign is about name recognition and Leo is the most talked about the candidate. In the last two polls, Leo has come second (to Efeso Collins) and he was first equal in the first one. He is the contender to beat Collins. The best Wayne has got is a bronze. We have got the attention, now it is who can do the job, Efeso or Leo?” he said.
McCarten says that a new billboard campaign with the slogan ‘Leo Molloy – the real deal,’ will be rolled out shortly.
“Leo has that sort of Auckland confidence, a bit of swagger. He is a businessman, not a politician, he is someone who can break the mould. He is seen as a rough diamond, but he has a heart of gold – he is the real deal,” he said.
But McCarten acknowledges that Molloy’s lack of political skills can be a handicap when it comes to getting his message across in interviews.
“A good politician will have three simple messages and stick to getting them across. Leo just answers all the questions he gets asked and sometimes doesn’t get his messages across. We need to work with Leo on how he communicates to the wider audience and managing the media opportunities will be less of a priority,” he said.
Leo’s interesting choice
Newsroom understands that with Gourdie gone, Molloy has hired former New Zealand Herald and Newsroom Sports Editor Steve Deane, to help him with his messaging.
Deane, whose most recent work has been in sport promotion and publicity, is an interesting choice for Molloy. Deane appears to hold negative views on some centre-right politicians his new employer is looking to for support.
In a recent Twitter post, he describes ACT leader David Seymour as a “tit”. In another post, he suggests people may still be supporting Labour because they had “previously experienced a National government, have considered what (few) policies they have tabled, and have heard Chris Luxon speak some words.”
McCarten says the plan is to talk more directly to Molloy’s supporters and he will be “fattening up the digital and social media team.”
That might be a tougher task than he was anticipating. After speaking with McCarten, Newsroom learned that a digital company working on Molloy’s campaign had also resigned.
Jordan Williams, the CEO of The Campaign Company, told Newsroom, “I can’t go into the details, but we have respectfully parted ways. We are no longer engaged but we wish him the best.” Williams is also a founder of the Taxpayers’ Union, which has as its Auckland voice the Ratepayers’ Alliance, which has been critical of Molloy on social media as well as in the Herald Advertisement
Mark Jennings is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Newsroom based in Auckland. The above article, which appeared on the Newsroom website, has been reproduced under a Special Agreement.