Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Bill Ralston and Mike Lee fight it out for Waitemata and Gulf ward

It's the battle of the bruisers. Mike Lee versus Bill Ralston for the coveted Waitemata and Gulf seat.

Both are anti-establishment figures in their 60s. Lee, 67, the sailor turned local body politician, scrapper and unashamed left winger who demolished right wingers Alex Swney and Greg Moyle at the last two elections.

Enter Bill Ralston, 63, the latest right winger to go into the ring with Lee; a forthright individual, whose career has been intertwined with journalism, politics and business.

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He lives in Freemans Bay with his wife, Janet Wilson, where the couple provide media training and public relations.

Ralston has watched the council for six years and become more and more frustrated with its dysfunctional nature, inability to make decision and financial incompetence.

"I know how to handle large-scale cash," says Ralston, referring to a $50 million budget he had as head of news and current affairs at TVNZ.

He also believes the long-serving Lee, who he has attacked for voting for last year's 9.9 per cent rates increases, is part of the problem.

Ralston is standing as an independent, but has sworn allegiance to Auckland Future and Vic Crone, the latest de facto attempt by the National Party to wrestle control of the Super City.

Pushed by Wilson and his good friend, National's Auckland Central MP, Nikki Kaye, Ralston is treading the old-fashioned path of door knocking and holding cottage meetings across the ward stretching from the liberal suburbs of Westmere, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn to the conservative eastern reaches of Parnell and Newmarket.

These people, Ralston says, are "pissed off" because all the local money is spent on the liberal side of town. He wants to see the Orakei- Hobson Bay walkway extended into the Waitemata ward. He blasts a $10.7 million upgrade of the Ellen Melville Hall and Freyberg Place in the CBD as a waste of money.


Lee, who got elected to the Auckland Regional Council in 1992 and became chairman in 2004, is taking Ralston seriously. He claims Ralston got up at a Herne Bay residents' meeting and said: "I'm coming for your job."

"I'm sure he is a bright fellow," Lee says of his opponent, "but in terms of community service I haven't seen any example of what he has done".

Lee is referring to his own deep connections to the public transport, environmental and community groups he has built up over the years, and strong links to Waiheke and the Gulf islands where he has a home and voter turnout is high.

Mike Lee is taking his opponent, Bill Ralston, seriously. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Mike Lee is taking his opponent, Bill Ralston, seriously. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Lee has another card to play; his bitter and public battles with council bureaucracy and politicians. "There is kind of a culture at Auckland Council where they spend a tremendous amount of time spinning the truth to the public...somebody like me who calls it as they see it can sometimes be considered a kind of interloper."

This doesn't bother Lee too much. He believes his views are more in tune with the public than senior management and councillors. Yes, a bit of grumpiness has crept into his game, but Lee says he has a lot of unfinished business on council - the development of public spaces on the waterfront and the new Parnell railway station are two local examples.

It's a little acknowledged fact, but as chair of the ARC, Lee was responsible for Wynyard Quarter, rail electrification and the business case for the city rail link.

Lee says he voted for last year's big rates rise because the Auditor-General said not to pass the budget would cause legal and financial chaos.

He is passionate about keeping Ports of Auckland in public ownership and opposes any further port expansion into the Waitemata Harbour.

Ralston is also opposed to further expansion and believes the land should remain 100 per cent owned by the people of Auckland, but open-minded about a partial float of the port business.

Ralston would consider selling airport shares. Lee would not sell shares.

Rob Thomas. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Rob Thomas. Photo / Kellie Blizard

The other candidate standing for the seat is Rob Thomas, a Waitemata Local Board member who has stood for the ward seat at the past two elections. He came fourth in 2010 and third in 2013, polling about 3000 votes each time.

The ambitious Thomas, who has stated his long-term goal is to be Mayor of Auckland, says climate change is the biggest issue facing Auckland today and, locally, supports light rail, residents only parking and restoring Coxs Bay beach.


Yesterday: Auckland mayoral hopefuls share their vision
Today: Waitemata
Tomorrow: Albert-Eden-Roskill and Manurewa-Papakura
Thursday: Albany and Howick
Friday: Licensing trusts and DHBs
Next Tuesday: All the Auckland wards, plus regional highlights, in our local body election supplement

What issues do you have in your ward and what would you like to see improved?

Bruce McRae. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton
Bruce McRae. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton

Bruce McRae, 63, Shoe repairer, Ponsonby

"Parking for one. Every two hours we have to get in our cars and move them around and if you're the only person working in the shop, you've got to close your shop to go and do it and that's just not on. I think the shop owners should be allowed to go to an area where they can park.

"Also, keeping the streets tidy, sometimes our shop gets covered in leaves and things and no one comes to clean it. Everyone's got to do it themselves, so it looks untidy."

Thomas Devereaux. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton
Thomas Devereaux. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton

Thomas Devereaux, 24, Compositor, Newmarket

"More cycleways for sure, especially more safe cycleways. I would love to cycle to work every day but it's just terrifying to even begin. Living in Sydney there was a clear blockade between the cycle paths and the roads so you felt really safe.

"Transport in general could be improved, to have less cars around."

Sue Norrie. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton
Sue Norrie. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton

Sue Norrie, 55, Sales assistant, Grey Lynn

"A big problem is the traffic, of course. Commuting from Grey Lynn to Glen Innes for example is impossible in under 40 minutes.

"I am sick of them taking away car parks to make bus lanes. I hate that because most people drive cars, buses aren't convenient because most trips I have to make, if I made on a bus, I would have to change buses three to four times and that just does not work.

"And of course housing. My kids will never come back to live in Auckland and that's a bit sad."

Karen Spires. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton
Karen Spires. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton

Karen Spires, 48, Real estate agent, Herne Bay

"Traffic's always a big thing isn't it? Transport is also an issue that I'd like to see improved. I actually really like where I live and I am really happy with the area."

Jeremy Batten (left) and Ashley Orchard. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton
Jeremy Batten (left) and Ashley Orchard. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton

Jeremy Batten and Ashley Orchard, Director and office admin, 41 and 21, Parnell

Jeremy: "More residential accommodation for people, it's bloody hard to find anything around here. There's not enough and not enough good stuff. There needs to be more developments and more parking."

Ashley: "Car parking. But one thing they don't need is any more food places."

Flynn Mehlhopt. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton
Flynn Mehlhopt. Photo / Ophelia Buckleton

Flynn Mehlhopt, 16, Student, Parnell

"Communication with young people is a really big thing. People seem to think that us as people don't have a voice and don't have our own thoughts about what is going on. But we do observe. We aren't asking for the right to vote, just listen to us. We do experience a lot as young people, we're going through a lot and sometimes there aren't people there to just talk."

- NZ Herald

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