The Tauranga Mayoral candidate is a broken-hearted man.
Because when Les Wallen and his wife Dell decided to “walk the road together and see what happened”, they thought it might lead them from their humble corner home in Greerton to the civic chambers of the country’s fifth biggest city.
Then one Thursday afternoon as Les was plotting his bid for the city’s top office Dell fell at the couple’s back door. “She was a fit, healthy woman. Met her when she was 15, married 53 years, never been apart.”
Not until Saturday, two weeks ago and 15 days after the fall. “She couldn’t communicate with us but then out of the blue she calls her sister and tells her she has a brain tumour and she was ringing to say goodbye, that Jesus was coming to get her.”
When The Weekend Sun drops in on Les this week there are three large floral bouquets on the living room table. There are photos and memories and grief. But now Les is walking that road alone, his faith driving him.
“We know Dell’s in heaven, she is rejoicing. And while she might not be here, is that any reason to stop?
“She wouldn’t want me to back off at this stage.”
He’s not stopping because he believes there’s a broken city to fix and the architects of that disaster to be vanquished.
And this man of deep faith draws a Biblical parallel;. “Jerusalem has been conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians. And the authority of the city was broken and non-functional when Nehemiah returned home from far-off lands. I thought well that fits with Tauranga perfectly. That’s where we are at, broken and non-functional.”
“Then Nehemiah on his donkey couldn’t get around the city because of all the rubble.” Another parallel. “Jerusalem was like Tauranga which is deliberately being chocked with traffic so the NZTA will give it more money. They’re trying to force you out of your car and onto a bus when not everyone can do that.”
And Les Wallen says he has the credentials to fix all that – he lived 46 years in Australia as an industrial automation specialist in the coalmines and steel. “Been fixing things all my life.” And Aussie is engrained in this pocket of Greerton – the house is full of photos and statues depicting horses and outback Australia. The would-be Mayor even wears expensive R.M.Williams [boots].
Les Wallen is also the man who made a lot of very public noise about the Cameron Road developments through his beloved village. “That’s the killer for council,” says Les. “I got so angry about those roadworks. I mean a class of eight-year-olds couldn’t come up with anything so ridiculous. Defies logic.” He claims it even drove a fistful of local businesses to the wall.
The fixer knew how to fix the great Greerton gaff. “I was going to get a bulldozer and rip it out at risk of going to jail.” He might not have to – he might just have to rattle his Mayoral chains if he makes it up Cameron Road.
The Weekend Sun sought out Les Wallen because there was that name amongst all the heavyweights – Greg Brownless – “Well, he has to go,” says Les - Kelvin Clout, Tenby Powell, Dame Susan when she was an option, Murray Guy and Les. Who’s Les? Ring round Greerton and no-one knows him apart from seeing his photo in the paper protesting over the roadworks.
The brief bio is Les is 73, father of three grown-ups including twins and a grandfather, an unassuming and dapper wee chap with clipped ‘tash’ and sad eyes who’s motivated by his caring for people. Number one on the manifesto is “to get the city moving again, opening the roads”. Then keeping rates low by “eliminating wasted money on useless projects people don’t want,” reducing debt, keeping the harbour clean and ensuring public consultation is exactly public consultation.
Once upon a time this man was a flying doctor, but with the good book. “After getting my credentials through the Baptist Church I operated an aerial ministry. I had my own aeroplane and flew around the outback ministering to whoever I found down there.”
It’s also a sign of the man that he was the first Baptist in Queensland to refuse to sign the pledge. “If I wanted a glass of wine with Dell at mealtimes or a beer with my son, I would do it. They didn’t care as long as you didn’t drink.”
He has also plagiarised and adapted a Trump-ism for his campaign – “Let’s make Tauranga Great Again”.
As The Weekend Sun is leaving, Les Wallen, Mayoral candidate, is settling in for a coffee, a movie and mulling half a century of memories with Dell. It also says something of his mettle that just a week or so after burying his wife he is resurrecting his campaign. He explains that.
“It’s a calling, not a campaign.” And the first thing he will do if elected is abolish ‘your worship’.
“There’s only one person to be worshipped.”