Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Shameful if voters ignore council poll

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The mayoralty threatens to be a one-horse race which could lead to a turnout as low as in 2007 - only 38 per cent.

Len Brown looks set to claim a second term as mayor of the Super City. Photo / APN
Len Brown looks set to claim a second term as mayor of the Super City. Photo / APN

October's Auckland Council election is shaping up to be a deadly dull affair. With Building Minister Maurice Williamson having given the mayoralty a quick sniff, then moved on, incumbent Len Brown seems home and hosed before the contest has even begun.

Meanwhile, the race for the 20 spots at the council table is shaping up to be an exercise in name recognition. Cameron Brewer, Mike Lee, oh yes, I've heard of him, where do I tick? And that's among those who vote. In the Super City's inaugural election in 2010, a strong mayoral contest mixed with the novelty of the new resulted in a better than normal local election turnout of 51 per cent.

But with what promises to be a one-horse mayoral race, this October's contest is likely to attract a turnout more akin to the 38 per cent of 2007. Which, in a democracy, is a pretty shameful state of affairs. But who can blame voters when the politicians stage such a lacklustre triennial affair? A lopsided mayoralty race is bad enough, but at councillor level, confusion abounds.

At least at a national level, our politicians drape themselves in the colours of their respective political parties, so voters get an idea of what they're voting for. But local elections are like a beauty contest where the bikini has been replaced by the burqa. Candidates hide their beliefs behind bland labels such as "Citizen" or "Ratepayer".

I had hoped with the creation of the Super City, home to a third of the nation's people, that the politicians seeking to govern us would shed this silliness, and embrace the labels we're all familiar with - Labour, National, Green and the like. Even if that was a step too far for the civic worthies, I did expect them to coalesce among themselves into like-minded working partnerships that voters could identify with.

But the opposite has occurred.

The embryo "parties" and loose associations that were cobbled together in 2010 by the remnant politicians from pre-amalgamated Auckland are now splitting apart at the seams.

The right-wing Communities and Residents, formerly Citizens and Ratepayers, and once controlled by former National Party president John Slater, is in tatters. In 2010, it won just five of the 20 council seats. Last November, Franklin councillor Des Morrison quit the ticket. Now deputy leader George Wood has decamped to set up his own North Shore ticket. Whau councillor Noelene Raffills has also scarpered.

To add to its woes, leader Christine Fletcher doesn't want to stand alongside Mark Thomas, the party's chosen running mate for her in the Albert-Eden-Roskill ward.

In other words, there's not a coherent, centre-right grouping contesting the poll.

The left is little better. CityVision, which claims to be the "community voice", pumped out a statement a month ago claiming to be the first team to select candidates and select candidates - but only in two wards, Waitemata and Albert-Eden-Roskill.

In the Waitemata ward it's claiming to have "confirmed" Mike Lee as its candidate, but qualifies that by admitting Mr Lee is running as an "Independent". It has two council candidates in the Albert-Eden-Roskill ward, and that's it. City Vision's statement says "our communities need a strong voice in the Auckland Council structure", which is a fine sentiment.

But instead we're back to the burqa politics of old, with candidates hiding their true identities behind a cloak of cliches. No wonder voters get turned off.

This lone-wolf approach bemuses me. For the past three years I've heard many complaints from councillors about how they're isolated from any real power, trapped between a mayoral office with a budget of $3.2 million and a staff of 23, and the mighty council bureaucracy.

Just last week, two examples at random. Councillor Sandra Coney was refused access to a legal review of the Unitary Plan process by planning boss Roger Blakeley. On Facebook, Howick councillor Sharon Stewart was bemoaning to Mr Wood that they'd not been invited to a function because "we are not in the right circle".

To all these politicians hunting on their own, there is a solution, one that unionists of old employed to their advantage. Educate, agitate and organise. Join up with like-minded politicians across the city. Work together so you can deal with the mayor and the bureaucracy on a more even footing. And importantly in the run-up to an election, work together to communicate a coherent message to the voters.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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