Agitator to run for SWDC mayoralty

By Hayley Gastmeier hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz -
6 comments
Martinborough man Graham Higginson has confirmed he will be standing for mayor of South Wairarapa in October. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Martinborough man Graham Higginson has confirmed he will be standing for mayor of South Wairarapa in October. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Self-confessed "agitator" Graham Higginson says, challenge accepted, in announcing he will stand for mayor of South Wairarapa.

"I was told to put up or shut up."

He said comments along those lines had been made to him by a number of different people, so he decided to step forward.

"I have been seriously considering this for a number of months, regardless of whether Adrienne Staples was going to stand for election."

Last week, South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples surprised her councillors at a South Wairarapa District Council meeting by declaring she would not be seeking re-election in October.

At the same meeting, councillors unanimously passed a motion to move forward with stage one of the Waihinga Centre, a project to refurbish the historic Town Hall and add a new extension.

Mr Higginson said the decision by the council to proceed with the project had been the catalyst for his decision to run for the mayoralty.

He had been one of the key people behind a petition, which gained 744 signatures, asking SWDC to halt the Waihinga Centre project and to further consult the community with alternative options.

He had also been chairman of the Martinborough Rates Action Group, which opposed the targeted rate proposed to ratepayers to part-fund the remaining balance of the project.

"Everybody in the community should be able to have a say in their community and that's pretty much what I'm campaigning on."

However, he did say he supported the council's decision to take the proposed rate to referendum.

"And, if I had it my way, we would be going to the public on any major decisions under the referendum process."

The commercial eel fisherman and trapper has lived in the South Wairarapa for the best part of his whole life.

"I'm now at the stage where I'm getting too old for my current employment -- wading around in cold water fishing and running the hills doing possum trapping.

"I'm at a stage in my life where I want to put something back into the district that has supported me my entire life, and I see this as a good opportunity."

Mr Higginson said he believed Martinborough was the closest to a colonial town in the North Island.

"And, as a tourist destination, we have to keep it that way.

"That's why we opposed that building [the Waihinga Centre] because it just doesn't fit in to the character of the town."

His experience in fishery negotiations and running the "single biggest possum trapping business for a number of years" would help him handle the job of mayor, he said.

"I'm not afraid to put my face and feet forward. A lot of people will say stuff but they won't put their name to it.

"But you have to stand up to be counted and I believe that everybody deserves the right to have a say."

Mr Higginson said the latest feat, with SWDC gaining 35-year consents for wastewater to be discharged to land instead of waterways in both Martinborough and Greytown, was a good move.

He said Mrs Staples had endured a lot in her time as mayor.

"The job of mayor is never easy. You're not going to please everybody all the time.

"For her to be in there for 12 years is a pretty substantial amount of time to deal with what the mayor has to deal with, and she's had a lot to deal with.

"She dealt with Coral Burrows extremely well and on other issues that have gone on in the South Wairarapa she's dealt with them reasonably diplomatically."

Mr Higginson said he intended to run a "fairly intense" campaign.

"If I was to be mayor I would be out there in the community all the time, I would be approachable to absolutely anybody on any concerns they had," he said.

"Democracy is paramount and a dictatorship is not."

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