Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Hamilton a two-horse race after 'scratching'

Hamilton candidates can spend $40,000 on campaign advertising and mayoral candidates $55,000.
Hamilton candidates can spend $40,000 on campaign advertising and mayoral candidates $55,000.

The two main contenders for the Hamilton mayoralty are running a close race and with voter turnout at a new low - less than 10 per cent at the weekend - it's still anybody's guess who will be elected mayor this Saturday.

Incumbent single-term mayor Julie Hardaker is up against seven other candidates in the fight to keep her job but it's councillor Ewan Wilson she is locked in a close race with for first place.

What was an early three-way battle narrowed last week when councillor and mayoral candidate Dave Macpherson bowed out to stop a crucial split in the vote.

Mr Macpherson refocused his campaign on being re-elected to council after a newspaper poll showed his main rivals, Ms Hardaker and Mr Wilson, well out in front.

Trailing a distant third, Mr Macpherson conceded he could not win and instead threw his weight behind Mr Wilson by asking supporters to vote for his fellow councillor.

The move infuriated Ms Hardaker, who called it a "political game-playing tactic" which was disrespectful to Hamilton voters and made a mockery of the election process.

Then the council released an official statement saying candidates could not withdraw from elections once nominations closed, unless incapacitated, prompting a response from Mr Macpherson that he never said he was withdrawing, only that he would now endorse Mr Wilson.

After the poll the 60-year-old said he had to face reality. "If I wanted a change in council leadership, the reality was that Ewan was in by far the best position to deliver that in the mayoral race.

"His policies are closer to mine by far than the current Mayor's, and have become closer during the campaign."

A councillor for the past 15 years, Mr Macpherson said he realised that if he continued to run for mayor it would split voters. "I would have been splitting the anti-Hardaker vote, potentially allowing her to come through the middle to win, and that would be bad for the city in my opinion."

Mr Wilson said the development gave voters a clear choice.

"It's Hardaker's dictatorial leadership it's my way or the highway versus my inclusive [approach]."

The 47-year-old, who is also running again for the Waikato District Health Board, believes councillors should have portfolios.

"There are 13 of us that would be making the decisions here. It's about what are the priorities, who is best to champion those priorities, and empowering them to go off and do it."

Mr Wilson, a pilot who imports two-seater planes from a business at Te Kowhai, wants to extend the runway at Hamilton Airport using an investor, reopening it for international passengers and freight.

The third-term councillor is well known for being behind the failed Kiwi Air transtasman airline and has a fraud conviction that cost him two months' periodic detention.

But the father of two adult daughters whose mayoral signs show a photo of himself and wife Monique says he learned from those mistakes and has a proven track record on council attracting economic development to the city.

"I believe in a proactive strategy where we identify companies that we would like to shoulder-tap and attract to the city. I believe it will generate huge jobs."

Mr Wilson also promises to turn Hamilton into the most family-friendly city in the country and will start with making council-owned public pools and later the Hamilton Zoo free to under-5s.

On three of the campaign's hot topics - fluoride, water meters and debt - Mr Wilson shared similar views to Mr Macpherson. They don't want the meters, which they say could add up to $1000 a year to household bills if Auckland's residential water costs are anything to go by.

Mr Wilson is openly in favour of fluoridation of the city's water supply - a matter that has dogged the council and ignited another national debate when it dropped fluoride in July.

A petition that pushed the council into a referendum on the issue was organised by Mr Wilson and supported by Mr Macpherson.

Both men say that sets them apart from Mayor Hardaker, who they say voted against letting the public decide.

Ms Hardaker defended her decision to vote against a fluoride referendum, saying the council sat through a costly tribunal and made a decision she did not believe in "flip-flopping".

The two men also claim the hype around Hamilton's debt levels is unnecessary. They both support absorbing a "commuter-belt" of residents living around the city but wouldn't go as far as amalgamating with other Waikato councils, and they both chose the same running mate for deputy councillor Martin Gallagher.

In contrast Mayor Hardaker says she doesn't "dangle lollies".

Instead, she wants to be the first second-term mayor Hamilton has seen since Margaret Evans' three terms in the 1990s, to keep her vision and momentum intact. That vision includes finishing a plan to turn the city towards the Waikato River, managing community infrastructure, continuing the city arts plan, investing in the city, and managing finances.

On debt, Ms Hardaker said the city was in a financial mess when she took office three years ago and she has turned it around. Instead of allowing the city to rack up $830 million of debt in a "spend fest" over the next 10 years, she reined in the spending and capped debt levels at $440 million.

Currently it sits at $397 million, including $64 million for the Claudelands Events Centre, $22 million from the failed V8 street race and $6 million to prop up the airport.

"It's been a long journey to fix it up ... but it is under control. After the V8 audit report [in 2011] the work that myself and the chief executive [Barry Harris] did to restore confidence in our city was huge. That was a low point in our city's history, I believe."

While some say she is pro-water meters, the 53-year-old insists she is simply open to the debate. Mr Macpherson wants the city to fix its leaking pipes and educate the public about water consumption instead of stinging residents in the pocket but Ms Hardaker says that approach is not a long-term solution. Water meters, subsidised grey water tanks or an alternative water source are options she says must be debated.

Police called in as flak flies over election tactics

Shenanigans on the hustings have been rife in Hamilton this council election, resulting in at least one police investigation.

Council electoral officer Jude Pani confirmed at least three complaints, over election advertising and interfering with or influencing voters, warranted referral to the police.

The complaints, two of them from incumbent councillors seeking re-election - Dave Macpherson and Roger Hennebry - focus on the endorsement of candidates by businessman Ray Stark.

Mr Stark, a one-time council candidate, used his TalkingTech company to phone 18,000 Hamilton households with a 33-second message pointing to his Concerned Citizen website.

On the site he lists his preferred mayor and councillors and provides a link to their election blurbs.

Mr Stark, who also features in television ads promoting the website, is known for his prominent billboards denouncing the council over the failed V8s street race and other debt.

Mrs Pani said the complaints under the Local Electoral Act were valid and she had forwarded them to the police. "All advertising needs to contain authorisation statements."

Mr Hennebry said if the council candidates endorsed by Mr Stark approved the endorsements then they needed to show that as election spending.

Hamilton candidates can spend $40,000 on campaign advertising and mayoral candidates $55,000.

However, Garry Mallett, who leads the New Direction-New Council ticket of candidates listed by Mr Stark, questioned whether the website was an endorsement. "It's a statement of fact who he is voting for."

Mr Mallett, a former one-term councillor in Hamilton and Act Party president, said the complaints were a distraction from the real issues of the campaign, which concerned council debt and core services.

"The big issue is we've got a city council that does not know where its job ends. It honestly thinks it should be doing everything."

He pointed to $90,000 of new city signs erected recently called "way-finding" and another initiative placing butlers kerbside to help people cross the street safely. He blamed a low voter turnout so far of 9 per cent on the distractions.

A police spokesman said police were seeking legal advice on the complaints.

Standing for safer streets

It's a fair bet most people in Hamilton have heard the name Leo Tooman before.

The straight-talking retired police roading manager known for his commentary at roadside crashes in the Waikato wants to continue making a difference.

The 67-year-old is standing in the west ward for Hamilton City Council. If elected, he hopes to influence communities to re-engage.

"What I'm saying is we've got to reclaim our streets. I'm probably just turning the clock back a little bit actually."

He wants Hamilton to hark back to the 1950s, when kids played in safe streets and neighbours talked to each other regularly - an environment he said lent itself to less crime and more involvement.

He would also like to see fewer "hole in the wall" liquor outlets in suburbia.

Wide range of experience among 38 candidates

An Olympic chef de mission, a former MP, two previous Hamilton mayors and two incumbent district mayors are some of the 38 candidates standing for 14 positions on the Waikato Regional Council.

Dave Currie, New Zealand's Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games chef de mission from 2000 until last year, says experience from this position in international negotiations adds value to his ability to make complex decisions.

Mr Currie, who has had roles on the Waikato District Health Board and Wel Energy Trust, resigned from the chef de mission position last year after being in charge of athletics stars who were not officially entered in the London Olympics.

In the Hamilton constituency former National MP and former Hamilton Mayor Bob Simcock has thrown his hat in the ring, saying the Waikato councils need to rethink how they do business.

"Councils are fighting over what services to cut to save a few dollars, but if we reduced overheads we could save a fortune," Mr Simcock says in his election blurb. "Eleven councils don't all need their own engineers, their own planners, their own accountants."

It's this theory that the Waikato is headed for a super city amalgamation of its 11 councils that prompted Matamata-Piako Mayor Hugh Vercoe to stand for the regional council.

The five-term Mayor said he wanted to continue to be involved in the amalgamation discussion because his personal belief was it would have little benefit for Waikato's rural territorial authorities.

"Amalgamation of the whole of the Waikato would be disastrous for the people in our communities."

Another incumbent, Waipa Mayor Alan Livingston, will go up against former Hamilton Mayor and first-term regional councillor Russ Rimmington in the Waipa-King Country ward.

* To see lists for Waikato, Thames-Coromandel, Hauraki, Matamata-Piako, Waipa, Otorohanga, Waitomo, South Waikato and Taupo visit www.vote.co.nz/2013/elections/regions

- NZ Herald

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