The election of the first Maori to a seat on the Napier City Council has surprised a veteran battler who once hoped to make the historic breakthrough.

But it's not so much the history as the man.

Heitia Hiha, now 84 and a candidate 18 years ago and for several years the council kaumatua and co-opted council Maori Advisory Committee chairman, says he had not heard of new councillor Api Tapine before two-term councillor Maxine Boag announced in April that she and Mr Tapine would make a team bid for the two Nelson Park Ward seats on the Council of 12.

It was a successful strategy as Mr Tapine, co-ordinator of the EIT's Maraenui outreach centre, ousted one-term councillor and construction company boss Mark Hamilton, who some had seen as a possible future Mayor.

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Mr Hiha, a constituent in the Nelson Park Ward, was rapt with the outcome, saying the only reason he found it was a surprise was because it was someone he had not previously known.

He said it was a sign of change as younger people "come through", and he was rapt with the outcome. "We will give him all the support we can," he said.

Mr Hiha, a retired school teacher, had long yearned for more of his people to put themselves forward for public office, and took the big but unsuccessful step to seek a place on the council after the devolution of the government's Department of Maori Affairs, which dispersed some Maori issues to local councils.

But in Napier, where Mr Hiha was closely involved with treaty claims, particularly that relating to Te Whanganui a Orotu - the once expansive inland waterway from which much of Napier had been built - there was no position for Maori to be in the decision-making.

"The council had the Maori Advisory Committee, but we had no power to make any decisions," he said.

At the last election in 2013, social worker Jim Morunga was unsuccessful in his bit to become a Maori voice in the council chambers.