Obvious signs of support for 'Iron Lady' mayor

By Doug Laing

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David Arnott, husband of retiring Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott, with signs he has placed during her election campaigns from 1995-2010. Photo / Warren Buckland
David Arnott, husband of retiring Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott, with signs he has placed during her election campaigns from 1995-2010. Photo / Warren Buckland

David Arnott has possibly two claims to fame.

Firstly, he's an oral and maxillo facial surgeon, which in simple fashion means he fixes damaged faces. There's only about 27 in the country and, given the sights they must have seen, they and their predecessors deserve medals.

Secondly, as he's the husband of Napier's first female Mayor, David Arnott is the first male in Napier to have a Mayor for a wife.

But fame has never been his thing, and over the 18 years Mrs Arnott has been in local body politics he's been more than happy to take a back seat, unless protocol demands otherwise.

It goes back to 1995 when she told him she thought she'd stand for the council in the Ahuriri ward.

At the weekend he recalled his reply: "Ok. What do I have to do to help?"

The first role was to help mount the campaign, and the first sign, yellow and black, because someone suggested that worked, and reading: "Vote Barbara Arnott for Ahuriri."

Simple, nothing too complicated, and practical, for when she stood for Mayor for the first time three years later it was merely a case of changing "Ahuriri" to "Mayor".

He's become official custodian of Arnott campaign signs, about 15 of them erected each election, inspected, and repaired when necessary, every Sunday morning throughout.

"An hour-and-a-half, 68km, hammer and nails," he says. "One good thing about this election is I don't have to go out checking the signs for graffiti and vandalism."

The only checking on hoardings this year is a bit of a double-take, as he drives past and notes: "That's my wife's job they're talking about."

Her election to the Mayoralty in 2001 sparked immediate comparisons with Sir Denis Thatcher, the late husband of late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and he accepts there may be some similarity.

He has been known to carry her bag, and he says: "She is the Iron Lady."

But, then, she had to be to achieve what he says has been her greatest legacy, unifying a civic leadership which had been prone to disruptive factions for some years beforehand, and the style was effective in drawing the support necessary for major projects to happen, and in which she says she's often taken a hands-on role.

The rebranded museum and art gallery, or MTG as it's known, for one. "She raised $12 million," he says.

His own role is to be "supportive in all shapes and forms," which apparently includes making sure the hot water bottle's filled and the electric blanket's on.

But she does get a big tick for domestic prowess, and he says: "She is an excellent cook. You can underline that: A superb cook."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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