Breezy Brewer woos C & R faithful

By Isaac Davison

Cameron Brewer Cameron Brewer out campaigning in St Heliers. Photo / Richard Robinson
Cameron Brewer Cameron Brewer out campaigning in St Heliers. Photo / Richard Robinson

Wearing a pinstriped suit and brightly coloured tie, with groomed hair and dark-framed glasses, Cameron Brewer is a force of slick, youthful energy as he courts voters on the streets of St Heliers.

On a Tuesday morning he is campaigning in the home territory of his main competitor for the Orakei ward, Citizens & Ratepayers member and Auckland City councillor Doug Armstrong.

Mr Armstrong, 68, says Mr Brewer is "not one of us" - an inexperienced candidate from the other side of the city.

But it does not show on this morning in St Heliers. Mr Brewer, a former spin doctor for Auckland Mayor John Banks, gets back-pats, good wishes and an offer of a free lunch, all in the space of five minutes. The 38-year-old's smooth talking makes elderly women giggle and promise him their vote.

Has he paid these people off? "Not at all," he said. "This is the mood for change."

Local butchery staff said they did not give the young buck "a chance in hell" at the start of the campaign, but their straw poll of customers showed he was now ahead.

The butchers have warmed to Mr Brewer too. They are attracted to his people skills - he has been into the shop "about 10 times" during his campaign - and his understanding of small business from his time at the head of the Newmarket Business Association.

The battle for the Orakei ward is the second most important in the Super City behind the mayoral race. A victory for Mr Brewer could critically wound C&R's Super City prospects. Mr Armstrong is a flagbearer for the C&R brand, a potential leader, and expected to manage the city's books if elected.

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

In the race for Orakei, Mr Brewer has all the ground to make up. Mr Armstrong is a three-term councillor, chairman of the finance committee for Auckland City Council, and winner of the largest majority of any councillor in the 2007 election.

Orakei has been a C&R stronghold since World War II. It is so deeply blue that City Vision does not bother to run a candidate.

Mr Brewer's decision to run against the blue ticket, belying his long affiliation with the National Party, was one of the most brazen moments in the election campaign.

Despite these challenges, Mr Brewer was tipped by many within the council, and even within C&R, to cause an upset and become the face of the new conservatives.

In the words of a National Party member, "Doug's done a good job. He's excellent with Auckland's finances. But the average voter won't know that. They see youth versus an older councillor. Cameron will waltz in."

Mr Brewer is relying on his fresh image as well as tireless campaigning - he spends nearly every morning waving placards on Tamaki Drive - to roll his opponent.

While Mr Brewer was walking the streets with huge self-belief, Mr Armstrong was quietly confident that his track record would convince voters to re-elect him.

With a wave of his hand, Mr Armstrong dismisses portrayals of his party as "fusty" or fragmented. He said he was not fazed by his competitor's hyperactive campaign.

"I think it is a significant challenge. But as the voting deadline approaches, I'm confident. The tone of the people on the street is good. It's just a feeling I have now that the papers are out."

The experienced civil engineer is not as vigorous a campaigner as Mr Brewer. He is anchoring his push for re-election on his experience, his membership in a major political ticket, and his familiarity with the ward.

"I was born here and I live here. [Mr Brewer] is an opportunist from the other side of the ward who has political aspirations to end up in Wellington."

He said that because he was "in the cabinet" he was close to the council's funding - which enabled him to push for the resanding of Kohimarama and St Heliers beaches.

The former head of Unitec was particularly proud that, as the city's finance chairman, he has kept rates affordable. He said a vote for him was common sense.

"I've looked after the finances for the biggest city in the country for years. [Mr Brewer] is young and inexperienced.

"Many of the first decisions this new council will have to make are on infrastructure and rates. I understand these. If we get these wrong, Auckland will lose its confidence."

He said that if Mr Brewer were elected, he would be isolated because of his decision to run against C&R. The Orakei local board is all but certain to have a C&R majority.

"He has no advantages over me. He will have no position of influence in the new council."

- NZ Herald

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