Far North mayor John Carter will not say if he was surprised to find himself a candidate, not a shoo-in, this time round.

He might have almost sleep-walked to victory unopposed, until rival Peter Gill threw his name into the ring at the last minute. (Mr Gill has accused the current council of being somewhat somnolent; his own slogan is Awake at the Wheel.)

Asked if he saw the challenge as serious, Mr Carter responded: "Look, I always take it seriously. "I'm out campaigning, patting babies and kissing their mothers, as I always do.

If there were no competitors, of course I wouldn't have to campaign, but I'm working as hard as I ever have to win re-election."


It would, he said, be disrespectful to the voters and the other candidate not to do so. If re-elected, he wants to push on with work already put in train by the current council that would bring tangible benefits and outcomes.

But there is a candid admission from a mayor who has worked as a manager in local government's pre-amalgamation structure, been elected on to various local authority boards and spent 24 years as a National member of Parliament, when his Cabinet roles included Minister for Local Government.

"The last three years as mayor have been a huge learning curve. I made the wrong assumption it would be a breeze."

The current council came into term in repair and damage control mode, Mr Carter said.

"I'm a hands-on mayor and I make no apology for that, but it is not our role to manage, although we do monitor."

His inside knowledge of central government and networks was useful in advocating for and dealing with Far North issues, he said, but the council's best work was being done at a more grassroots level.

"I'm really proud that we've managed to help unite the various communities and the disaffected people of the Far North. The biggest thing gained in my time as mayor has been changing the council to a body that is community-led. Introducing that culture change has been a biggie and there is still some way to go."

The main issue facing the Far North is predominantly economic, according to Mr Carter.

Inter-council and other regional bodies - an example being the Northland Roading Alliance - working together was critical, he said.

"Unfettering multi-owned Maori land to enable it to become a cultural, spiritual and economic asset for those owners. We all have a role to play in that, as leaders."

The mantra he would espouse if re-elected was "the little things matter" - and those would mostly be decided not by a mayor but at community level, on a path already mapped out.