Mt Albert voters run up their colours

By Simon Collins

White-haired Mt Albert pharmacist David Baird met his first living, breathing politician yesterday - and gave her an earful.

"Hi, I'm Melissa Lee, National candidate for Mt Albert," said the politician.

"Well you won't be getting my vote because I don't think we need any Asians in Parliament," the pharmacist shot back tartly.

Korean-born Ms Lee, a former journalist who has been in New Zealand for 21 years, asked brightly, "Why not?"

Mr Baird said he had his reasons. "They are very difficult people to deal with. They don't spend any money. I don't see that they bring any money into the country. Another problem is their English is very bad.

"You're all right," he told the candidate later. "You are almost 100 per cent. But, seriously, we find it difficult, particularly old people. We have Titus here to talk to them."

Chinese-born Titus Jiang, fresh out of the Otago pharmacy school and preparing to cast his first vote in Mt Albert, smiled when his name was mentioned. He said later he did not know much about politics but "at the moment National seems all right".

Mr Baird voted NZ First last year and has not decided whom to support in the June 13 byelection, caused by Helen Clark's departure to the United Nations.

"I know my wife will be voting Labour, she's red through and through," he said. "Theoretically, professional people have always voted blue. I'll have to make my mind up soon.

"It's the first time I've ever met a parliamentarian," he added. "It's nice to see some representation."

After 63 years as a safe Labour seat, Mt Albert's 44,000 electors are suddenly about to see a lot more live politicians in the first byelection in a general electorate since former Prime Minister Jim Bolger bowed out of Taranaki-King Country 11 years ago.

Despite Helen Clark's thumping 10,351-vote majority barely six months ago, Ms Lee reckons the former leader's decamping is her opportunity.

"Yesterday a total stranger, a hairdresser who's always voted for Helen Clark, shook my hands and congratulated me and gave me a hug because she was voting for me," she said.

"Twenty-four per cent of the electorate is Asian, 40 per cent were born overseas. I think I can empathise with them."

In a stroll down New North Rd with Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman, she found plenty of backing from business owners and from passersby such as Unitec sound engineering student Tom Levesque, who gave his party vote to National but his electorate vote to Helen Clark last year.

"I guess it's one of those things - you're used to someone, then when you see change you see many things happen. I think John Key's doing a marvellous job," he said.

But Tony Follaoi, an author, was wary. "I'd have to find out more to actually put my vote that way," he said.

In contrast, Labour's new man David Shearer found rock-solid support as he greeted parents arriving to pick up their children at the Sandringham kindergarten. Every one who spoke to the Herald planned to vote for him.

Despite a reputation as a grey United Nations bureaucrat, most recently deputy head of the UN mission in Iraq, the former Massey High School geography teacher made easy, relaxed small-talk.

"He's a good guy, what he's done in Iraq. I like him," said Moses Kalekale, father of 5-year-old Emanuel.

"Everyone loves Labour and Helen Clark's work," added Ayub Khan, father of Nehaal, 4. "We don't know much about David but Helen Clark's work is much appreciated around here, particularly in the immigrant and Asian communities."

And a Pakeha mother who declined to be named turned out to be as "red" as Mr Baird's wife. Her simple verdict: "I'm going to vote for him - he's the right colour."

* Countdown

Mon May 11: Main roll closes.

Tue May 12: Nominations open.

Tue May 19, noon: Nominations close.

Wed May 27: Advance voting starts.

Sat June 6: Information packs sent to voters on main roll.

Sat June 13:Polling day.

* www.elections.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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