Incumbent mayor Sheryl Mai says Whangarei's biggest challenge and strength is its growing population. She says 1000 new residents move to the region a year on average, but that's likely to have risen over the past year.
"With the prices of Auckland real estate, people are looking elsewhere.
"We've certainly received the benefits and a few growing pangs that come with additional demand on infrastructure."
To cope with this the city needed a mayor with long-term thinking and stamina, Mai said.
Revitalising the city centre is also a major focus. "Like many provincial towns, our city centre is suffering from empty shops, which is a concern."
Horahora Primary School principal Pat Newman agrees the emptying of the town centre is an issue but sees job openings for youth as paramount.
During his 17 years at the school he's seen many of his past students forced to leave their hometown.
"Looking at where we live, it's a beautiful part of the country.
"We should be tapping into the tourist market in a big way to help with unemployment. It's around making sure people want to live, stay and visit Whangarei without our kids leaving town to get jobs."
To do this, Newman thinks a strong leader is needed to make sound investments. "I hear people saying rates are a problem, but the council has got to think about spending money to make money in the future."
Chris Harold of the Whangarei Returned and Services Association is concerned that everyone has become too accustomed to living in debt, including the council.
He said while a mayor needed to be fiscally sensible, the responsibility also lay with councillors and other staff. He thinks the mayor needs to be proactive meeting local residents.
Local engineer and community man Trevor Griffiths wants a "go-ahead council". He said Whangarei had to embrace growth to fulfil its potential and art and culture was an important part of that.