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The Man Who Would Be King

Former mayor of Waitakere, BOB HARVEY talks to three contenders for the Auckland mayoralty. This time: hospitality loudmouth, LEO MOLLOY

The Man Who Would Be King

Jun 16, 2022 Politics

Poor old Tāmaki Makaurau, the place of a thousand lovers. It’s election year for Auckland Council and no one seems to want the top job. The upper echelons of our political class have, so far, run from the opportunity, leaving the race open for the lesser-known and the unexpected.

But is there a saviour on the horizon? A man with a boxing ring outside his bar, who fancies himself as the Muhammad Ali of Auckland politics; a man with a motor mouth who will come out swinging and take home the belt at the end of the year? If you’re looking for a miracle candidate, that’s exactly what he claims to be.

His name is Leo Molloy. A fan of the A-listers, a devotee of the rich list, Molloy owns the bar Headquarters (currently up for sale on Trade Me) — a honeypot for fun, frivolity and, often by design, controversy. It’s like a cross between Jakarta and Casablanca, with an old-world movie magic about it. This is Molloy’s kingdom. He lights up whenever he sees a customer; he’s warm and surprisingly sincere. On a corner site in the Viaduct, Headquarters has sweeping verandas and awnings, and makes a delectable setting for dining, wining and affairs. It’s perfect for a certain version of Auckland and, according to Molloy, so is he.

The candidate already has a small campaign office up and running and has appointed Matt McCarten — election maestro, union leader and campaign manager for John Tamihere’s mayoral run last election — to advise and mentor him. He’s surrounded by his mates Monty Betham, Pita Alatini and Keven Mealamu and his sister, reality television puppet-master Dame Julie Christie.

Molloy invited me to Headquarters to sit and talk about his aspirations and his favourite subject, himself. He has a story to tell and he thought Metro should hear it first. Though his emotions were close to the surface, he presented a deeply committed desire for the glittering prize that is the Auckland mayoralty. In the year ahead, he will understand just how slippery and challenging the fight for that prize can be. You may think he’s a joke, but in the next few months, you’ll be hearing a lot from him.

 

BOB — Leo, are you serious?

LEO — I’ve thought about it long and hard and consulted with my family and I’m ready to go. I’ve committed a lot of time and resources to get this far. I’ve committed nine years of my life to this decision; it’s definitely not a flippant one. I think I can make a significant difference. There is an opportunity here for someone to make a difference.

BOB — Where are you coming from politically?

LEO — I’m not coming from the left or the right and I’m not coming with baggage. I’m as comfortable with the police as I am with the 501s. And they understand me. I feel I have the ability to traverse the entire spectrum.

BOB — What was the defining moment when you decided you’d run?

LEO I was sitting in Sierra Café across the road from Headquarters and I saw these guys from Auckland Trans- port come out of nowhere with a truckful of cones. No one had talked to us and they were closing down the street. When I asked what they were doing they simply said they have done leaflets drops and “due to little feedback, we are going ahead with transforming this roadway into a dedicated bike lane”. I was incensed and decided some- one had to take a stance. I’m not a small business. I have 71 staff and I believe I run a great operation and this was the kind of treatment I was getting from Auckland Council — no consultation. It was an epiphany.

BOB — Would you consider yourself tough? That’s what it’s going to take!

LEO — I was born on the West Coast. My father and mother taught me survival. My father had a stroke when I was eight and died when I was 11 years old. My mother was only 33 and she had always been a rock for me. Growing up, we never lacked love and we never went without a feed. Those lessons remain with me to this day. I know I’m up to the challenge, and I’m not fearful of anything.

BOB — We need to understand your background, your rise to fame in Auckland, your ability to create the fantastic Euro Bar, where everyone who mattered would dine and be seen — and then something went wrong. Tell me about it.

LEO — It wasn’t a great time in my life when Euro closed. I went from being someone that mattered in Auckland to a nobody overnight. The calls dried up and for three years, I was Mr Cellophane — the town looked right through me. I had to borrow a car and I got a job in an advertising agency, and I started to rebuild my life. And I did. I’ve put it behind me now. My success at Headquarters has been a tribute to my personal toughness and resilience. I am a man on fire — that fire is burning bright and I’m unstoppable.

BOB — If you could rewrite any part of your life, which part would it be?

LEO — I will give you an example of a classic own-goal. Because I’m a trained vet, I understand about viruses in animals as well as humans, and I felt I was ahead of the curve when it came to Covid. I felt a lot of people were not making any sense. I realised it was transmitted in the air and I believed ventilation was key. I’d seen viruses in camels when I worked in Israel on a kibbutz and felt I had something to contribute. So when Heather du Plessis-Allan rang me [in May 2020] because I was being outspoken about Covid and its transmission, I took the example of a Korean ace spreader of the virus and related it to a situation that I thought was happening in Auckland. God, I wish I hadn’t. When I listen back to the audio of the interview with her now, I just can’t believe it when I hear my own voice talking about the spreading of Covid in clubs and dungeons. But where I truly fucked up was when Heather asked why Headquarters was safe and other bars were not. I responded by saying — and I can’t believe I said it — at Headquarters we get the first crack at the partygoers early in the evening, and then they move on. It’s not like one of those gay dungeon bars on K’ Rd where you are swapping DNA at 2.30 in the morning. I am forever apologetic that I made this comment and used the word ‘gay’. Two of my five children are gay and I am very proud of them but I am certainly not proud of that quote.

BOB — What are the issues you care about? What would you actually want to achieve with the leadership of Auckland?

LEO — Congestion — the cost to this city and the carbon emission. We need a policy on public transport and on carbon. I have some great transport advisers, people who know what they are talking about, and I intend to listen to them. My personal view is the only way to solve the problem is a congestion charge, around $3.50. But it’s not as simple as that — we can’t expect the cleaners who travel from the suburbs to clean the commercial buildings to pay $3.50. But I want to make that work. A charge of $3.50 would bring in $250 million a year, taking into consideration $50 million to administer the system, leaving around $200 million. I’m a fan of free public transport. It makes sense and although Transit New Zealand [Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency] is not on board, I believe I can make it work with that $200 million. Andrew Ritchie of Ritchies Transport is a great friend and wise head when it comes to transport, and knows what he’s talking about. And I am listening.

BOB — Are you on side with this government? You can’t get anything like that done without them.

LEO — Very much so. I talk to three Cabinet ministers regularly, one of whom I’ve spoken to for over 15 years.

BOB — Do you think the government will like you?

LEO — The thing about me, Bob, is that everyone says they don’t like me until they meet me.

BOB — So many people think you’re a prick. And you’ve fuelled that perception in the media.

LEO — I allowed it because it suited me at the time. A newspaper, which I won’t name, told me there are four things that sell papers in Auckland: two of them are the royal family and Leo Molloy. I am hard but I’m resilient. I’m educated, I’m charismatic, I’m loquacious. I have a streak of brilliance in me when people least expect it.

BOB — But does anyone respect you?

LEO — I’ll tell you who respects me: the people who work with me in the spaces that I choose not to talk about. And that traverses Auckland.

BOB — We need to talk about the port …

LEO — The port is just an amazing opportunity for Auckland. There’s 80 hectares there and that’s real
estate about as good as you can get. It doesn’t get any better than that. Tāmaki Makaurau — that’s the jewel in the crown. The only structure they have built in the last decade is the carpark and I can’t find a sensible person anywhere who can justify that business model. The solution rests with Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland. It’s the sweet triangle. An export port, an import port and a land port is a positive solution and it’s more than possible. My feeling is that we say to the port, “You have nine years to sort it out, reduce your footprint to around 20 hectares for import only, or you have nine years to pack your bags and go.” And on that land we are going to put a state-of- the-art 60,000-seat stadium. Eden Park is going to go. I’ve spoken to the Rugby Union and they have people in place to fund this. It’s not difficult.

BOB — But do you realise just how hard this job is? As a former mayor, I can tell you, it is not for the fainthearted, Leo. It’s 24/7 and full on.

LEO — I’m an Irish Catholic and I’ve been through a hell of a lot of ups and downs but I’m tough and persistent. I’ve known good times and bad, I’ve had two marriages dis- solve and that was hell. I’ve had a business go under and I’ve been bankrupt. But I’ve worked to resolve it and I’m over my bleak days. My background has served me well. Above all of that, I am a fighter and I believe in myself and what I can do for Auckland.

This column was published in Metro 434.
Available here in print and pdf.

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