A cartoon hand flicking an election sign. A dump truck in the corner. Two newspaper excerpts from 2013. Fake news plastered over a quote from a different ad. These were some of the ingredients of an attack ad that ripped into the records of three councillors. Now two of those targeted are hitting back, and the man behind the ad says he wishes it hadn't had to come to this. Then there's the involvement of another candidate. Reporter Samantha Motion delves into a nasty turn in the competition for seats on Tauranga City Council.
Two Tauranga city councillors targeted in a full-page attack ad have hit back, with one calling it "dirty politics".
The ad, authorised by former advisor to the council, Graeme Horsley, named councillors Bill Grainger, Rick Curach and John Robson.
Grainger has accused councillor Larry Baldock of having a hand in the "scathing" publication.
Baldock, a former MP, at first refused to comment but later admitted he helped gather excerpts used in the ad at Horsley's request.
The ad ran in the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend on Saturday. It was headlined: "This is a personal opinion... Do you really want to vote these three in again?"
The ad called Robson Tauranga's "Donald Trump" and encouraged voters to "flick Rick" and say "Bye, Bye Bill".
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Robson, a mayoral candidate, had no comment but Curach and Grainger slammed the ad's claims.
Curach said he was "particularly hurt by the defamatory statement that I fooled people".
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The ad said: "Fool us once, shame on you; fool us seven times, shame on us."
"The public deserves clarity from the writer as to who I fooled and how I fooled them - in each instance," said Curach, who is seeking a seventh term.
He said it was damaging to his "reputation of honesty", also mentioned in the ad in an excerpt from former the Bay of Plenty Times 2013 councillor report card.
Grainger said he was astounded by the ad's "scathing remarks" and use of quotes from a scorecard by councillor Max Mason.
Mason, who is not standing this year, ranked his re-election seeking colleagues - and himself - in a full-page ad taken out by the Campaign for Better Council Governance in Friday's Bay of Plenty Times.
A news story about the ad established a link to Baldock, who said he knew it was being prepared and encouraged people to donate towards it.
Mason gave Baldock the top ranking, while Grainger, Robson and Curach had the lowest scores.
Grainger said he questioned whose opinion Horsley's ad reflected, claiming that Baldock made "identical comments" in a video.
"It makes me wonder who is pulling whose strings.
"Dirty politics at its best."
Baldock first would not comment on his involvement in the ad, saying Grainger could "speculate all he likes".
He later said he helped gather some excerpts used in the piece.
Asked about being linked to two ads critical of opponents, he said he was trying to "balance the incorrect information being put out with clear, factual information".
Horsley said Baldock did not help pay for the ad and, in his view, did not have a "major" involvement in its creation.
Horsley said the ad was his idea - a negative take on one of Robson's - which used positive quotes about him from other people - that he found detestable.
He said he usually would ask Mason for help but he was overseas. So he discussed it with Baldock and asked him to help gather information.
"I wrote the bulk of it and I asked him to help get some of the comments together."
"He didn't pay for it and he didn't authorise it."
Horsley said the ad was his opinion.
Asked why it referenced "our opinion", he said: "I had to get it checked out by people to ensure I wasn't taking any steps that weren't legal, or were defamatory et cetera so obviously when I've been writing it a few 'ours' have crept into it."
He said he was not connected to any campaign, nor supporting any candidates with his money or time.
He would not expand on the comment about Curach fooling people, saying the ad could stand alone.
Horsley said the ad was motivated by his disappointment in some of the things candidates - current councillors and others alike - had been saying.
"I think its terrible Local Government got into the situation of having attack ads rather than ... people being positive and trying to build forward in this city.
"But that's what it's like at the moment. We've got to do something to change the structure of this council."
Tauranga needed people with vision and a good understanding of how local government worked - not just people who want to keep rates increases low, he said.
Horsley was on the panel of the 2007 Shand rates inquiry and was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the valuation profession the next year.
He was a member of Tauranga's Civic Amenities Group, an influential lobby group, and chaired the technical advisory group for the council's Heart of the City programme from inception in 2017 until he stepped down mid-2018.
The programme was monitored by the City Transformation Committee, which Baldock chaired.
Baldock chaired the City Transformation Committee - gone in a committee restructure earlier this year - that oversaw the programme.
Tauranga City Council electoral officer Warwick Lampp said Horsley's ad did not fall under the definition of election advertising as it did not promote a candidate.