Incumbent Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule says he feels "passionately" about amalgamation and has staked his claim to stay on as mayor at a public debate last night.
Organised by Hawke's Bay Today and Newstalk ZB in conjunction with Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce, the forum was held at the Karamu High School Hall in front of about 150 Hastings residents.
Mr Yule received 66.6 per cent of the unscientific straw-poll vote. Mr Bradshaw gained 22.5 per cent and Mr Nixon 8.1 per cent, while a total of 2.8 per cent was invalid. The debate was moderated by Chamber of Commerce CEO Wayne Walford.
All three candidates answered a number of questions on issues including amalgamation, legal highs, troubled inner city youths, fluoridation, and economic and environmental sustainability.
Mr Yule said he was "passionately in favour of amalgamation" and said "it will take us forward in leaps and bounds".
"It will create around $10m in savings for the region but I believe we need one vision, one leadership, and one infrastructure."
He said Napier and Hastings needed to "stop competing" against each other for the benefit of strengthening the region as a whole.
Mr Nixon also felt amalgamation was the best way for Hawke's Bay's voice to be strongly heard in central government's future policy making.
"We need to bring together Hawke's Bay to make it a more competitive region. Auckland, Christchurch all have one voice and one direction. We need the same. We need to speak in unity and come out with one message as the voice of 150,000 Hawke's Bay people."
Mr Bradshaw said he thought amalgamation would achieve positive things for the people of Hawke's Bay, however "we have to have the leadership to take us there and in the right direction".
All three candidates agreed the issue of legal highs in the community needed to be addressed, with Mr Nixon calling it a scourge "we don't need".
Mr Bradshaw said: "we need to hold the people who have created this problem accountable, which is central government."
Mr Yule described the problem as a "complex situation" but said regulations on legal highs had a number of "glaring holes".
He wanted to target the issue along with the trend of problematic youths in the Hastings CBD now, and warned of a bigger issue arising in 20 years if not taken seriously.
"We are taking a firmer stance from next week on, but we need more jobs for these kids, a mum and dad that care and a nurturing environment."
Mr Nixon said short term a stronger police and security presence in the CBD was required.
"There is going to be four city ambassadors starting from next week, but I feel it would be better if we put that money into one policeman with a dog."
Mr Bradshaw said a long term solution to the CBD wouldn't be sustainable if it was not conceived of and supported by the community.
On Hawke's Bay's economic growth, Mr Bradshaw said the region had an "opportunity it could not afford to miss".
"Hawke's Bay can be the agri-business centre of New Zealand and it is important that we don't miss that opportunity like we have with others.
"We need better long term planning, which I believe has been lacking over the last few years."
Mr Yule said he supported the Ruataniwha dam proposal if farmers took the risk and the water quality of the Tukituki River was improved.
Mr Nixon said the local economy and tourism industry would be the major benefactors of increased domestic and potentially international flights.
All proceeds from the debate's gold-coin donations will go to the Hawke's Bay Cancer Society. At the Napier mayoral debate last week, $365 was raised for the charity.