Did Naughton sacrifice principles for prestige?
By The Insider
Last week’s dramatic mayoral election summoned to mind the pithy observation of former US president Dwight D Eisenhower: “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
Fine Gael councillor Hildegarde Naughton will hope that Eisenhower’s warning does not hold true after she ingloriously dismounted her moral high horse and rowed back from her principled stance on rezoning last week in a bid to land the plum job of city mayor.
A number of her colleagues from within the mayoral pact had indicated in advance of last week’s election that they would not vote for Hildegarde because they felt that the reputation of her fellow councillors had been impugned by comments she made in relation to voting on rezonings in the City Development Plan.
They demanded a public apology and a retraction of remarks attributed to her during the debate on the plan, in which she referred to a “nod-and-wink” political culture and “vested interests” that were involved in the rezoning process.
Councillors Donal Lyons (Independent) and Peter Keane (Fianna Fáil) were particularly irked by Hildegarde’s maverick stance and controversial comments, but she stood by her principles and steadfastly refused to offer an apology for exposing what she saw as inappropriate practices at work in the council chamber.
However, when it became apparent last week that the €50,000-a-year mayoral allowance was going to elude her in the absence of her colleagues’ votes, she back-pedalled faster than Lance Armstrong and traded her home-made halo for the mayoral chains.
In a grovelling statement designed to placate councillors Lyons and Keane, Hildegarde apologised for saying of her colleague’s voting patterns on rezoning that “when one sheep goes through the gap, they all go out the gap” and denied ever questioning anyone’s integrity in the council chamber.
She prostrated herself sufficiently to ensure the endorsement of all nine members of the mayoral pact in order to secure the top job in the council, which will bring with it lucrative allowances and a hectic itinerary of foreign travel ahead of the Volvo Ocean Race in Galway next year.
Ironically, it might have been of greater benefit to Hildegarde politically if she had stood firm in her popular stance on rezoning and lost the mayoral election in the absence of Lyons and Keane’s elusive votes.
She would have been perceived as a victim, a martyr, and a woman of principle, evoking sympathy from an electorate disappointed to see her denied the top job for standing by her convictions, but, as it transpired, the support that she gained on the strength of her anti-establishment stance on rezoning and “developer-led planning” may well have been lost just as quickly as it was gained.
She garnered more than 3,600 votes in the General Election, when she campaigned with the slogan “Public interest, not vested interests” but in the end it was her own interest in the mayoral chains that prevailed.
As she lowered herself gracelessly from the dizzying heights of the moral high ground into the leather-clad interior of the mayoral car, not only did she withdraw some remarks that had caused offence to her colleagues but she also denied making other remarks “attributed incorrectly” to her by various media.
She completely denied ever making a host of comments to which her fellow councillors had taken exception, which allegedly cast aspersions on the members of the local authority and referred to the existence of a “nod-and-wink culture”.
It is peculiar then, that her official website still showcases a “Response to Cllr Peter Keane” from last October in which she describes her mayoral pact colleague as “representative of the sad old ways relating to planning” and refers to a “nod and wink culture” that has brought our nation to its knees.
It is equally peculiar – if various media “attributed incorrectly” comments to which councillors took umbrage – that she decided to cut out and post on her website one of the articles in which she is quoted as saying in relation to rezoning that “there are vested interests involved in the process”.
In the same article she states that she had been “shocked by the stupidity of some of the councillors in putting [rezoning decisions] through” and that her experience since being elected had encouraged her to stand up and expose what is going on at a local level.
Her 3,600 first preferences at the last election clearly attest to the fact that her maverick stance on rezoning and planning struck a chord with the electorate but her subsequent back-pedalling is likely to make her answerable to claims that she was all sound bite and no substance.
For now, Hildegarde can comfort herself with the prestige and the lucrative allowance that the top job entails, but when the shine wears off the mayoral chains and she returns to the electorate to ask for their support, she may find votes have been lost along with the principles and privileges that Eisenhower foretold.
Hildegarde will hope that the number she loses as a result is limited but in the event she may discover that, with voters: when one goes through the gap, they all go out the gap.