Orakei: Challenger splits centre-right in Tory heartland

By Bernard Orsman

Doug Armstrong - Super City candidate. Photo / Supplied
Doug Armstrong - Super City candidate. Photo / Supplied

The political landscape of the Super City largely rests on two contests: who wins the mayoralty - John Banks or Len Brown - and who wins the Orakei ward - Doug Armstrong or Cameron Brewer.

At stake is the future of Citizens & Ratepayers, the dominant political force in Auckland City since 1931, which wants to control the Super City.

In the most brazen moment of the campaign, Cameron Brewer, the ambitious and energetic self-styled Mayor of Newmarket, declared he was taking on C&R in Orakei.

Normally, it is the left tearing itself apart at local body elections. This time, the chatter is over the teacups in Remuera and Kohimarama.

The political ramifications of 37-year-old Mr Brewer challenging C&R's Doug Armstrong, 67, are far-reaching in terms of centre-right politics in Auckland.

Orakei is to C&R what South Auckland is to Labour. It largely comprises the Hobson and Eastern Bays wards of the soon-to-be-abandoned Auckland City. Five of C&R's current 11 city councillors hail from the northern slopes of Remuera and the swanky eastern suburbs.

It was bad enough when the initial boundaries of the Super City carved this Tory heartland into a two-member Orakei-Maungakiekie ward, but the final boundaries reduced Orakei to a single-member ward.

This created an awful squeeze for C&R, after which Mr Armstrong, a three-term councillor and two-term finance committee chairman, was selected by the C&R executive as its candidate.The backroom system of choosing C&R candidates has not been greeted warmly by many party members, some of whom are questioning their loyalty in Orakei.

The situation is aggravated by the executive finding only 14 candidates for the 20 positions on the Auckland Council, several of whom fit critics' "crusty and rusty" description of C&R.

Despite being on the wrong side of 60, Mr Armstrong is regarded as a key flagbearer for C&R on the Auckland Council, a possible leader and keen to run the city finances.

If Mr Brewer wins - and one senior C&R figure said he would - C&R will be severely weakened. The ticket has already lost its leader, David Hay, who is retiring from politics, and Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett, who withdrew as a candidate after being diagnosed with throat cancer.

There is the prospect of Noelene Raffills being the only C&R Auckland City councillor elected to the Auckland Council, although Hobson councillor and Remuera resident Paul Goldsmith, who missed out on the Orakei candidacy, could win one of two seats in the Albert-Eden-Roskill ward.

Instead of having a strong, experienced team to steer the Super City, C&R could end up a small, oddly formed team with the likes of former Auckland City Mayor Christine Fletcher and Olympian Dick Quax.

Enter Mr Brewer, a National Party member of 15 years, whose announcement last month brought cries of betrayal from his C&R chums - particularly upset for president John Slater, who is also chairman of the Newmarket Business Association.

Mr Slater's son, Cameron, on his Whaleoil blog, said Mr Brewer was "nothing short of a back-stabbing, carpet-bagging prick from Pt Chev".

Mr Brewer, who lives in Pt Chev and who Mr Armstrong has said was "not one of us", counters the carpet-bagging claims by saying his role as Newmarket Business Association chief executive gave him a high profile in neighbouring Remuera and Ellerslie.

With all the self-confidence in the world, built up by his role at Newmarket and working for National Party leader Dame Jenny Shipley and Auckland City Mayor John Banks, Mr Brewer is promoting himself as the strongest and best choice for Orakei.

The reason he gave for not standing for C&R was a belief he would not have got a winnable seat, and "at this stage" he does not want to be constrained by a political organisation.

Should he win, Mr Brewer does want to play a role in the "regrouping" of the right, and some kind of accommodation with C&R is likely when things cool down.

It is understood he is attracting support in National Party circles. Musician, promoter and former Eastern Bays city councillor Gray Bartlett and former Newmarket Borough Council Mayor David Lumsden have also come out in his support.

Even if he does do a deal with C&R, or joins its ranks, Mr Brewer is not expected to fit the traditional mould. It is understood he has held talks with Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney, standing as an independent candidate for the council with the backing of C&R, and independent city councillor Mark Donnelly, about an alternative grouping to C&R.

Mr Armstrong believes his own experience and track record will win the day. Orakei has always been looked after well by C&R. The former engineer and head of Unitec is particularly proud that as the city's finance chairman, he has kept rates affordable.

Architect Hugh Chapman, who has been promoting a regional monorail system for the past decade, is the only other candidate in Orakei.

CANDIDATES
* Doug Armstrong, 67, C&R.
* Cameron Brewer, 37, Independent.
* Hugh Chapman, 71, Independent.

THE SERIES
The Herald will cover all wards over the next two weeks.
This week begins with:
* Today: Orakei.
* Tomorrow: The battle for Rodney.
* Wednesday: The Howick campaign.

- NZ Herald

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