Sheryl Mai has thrown her weight behind two men competing with her for Whangarei's mayoralty, saying they would make "fantastic" councillors.

Yesterday she said TogetherTahi's Ash Holwell and Matt Keene could have her job, but only "when I'm finished with it".

"And wouldn't it be fantastic to get them on to the council this election?" she said.

Mr Holwell was also running as an Okara ward councillor, while Mr Keene was contesting a seat in Denby. The pair had spent a combined $360 on their campaign so far, including petrol money, though Mr Holwell usually got to meetings on a 1.8m tall bicycle.


Ms Mai's comments were in response to an unscientific poll conducted at the Northern Advocate's meet the candidates night on Tuesday.

Of about 400 attendees, 276 people voted for their preferred mayoral candidate.

Ms Mai led the poll with 79 votes, followed by Ash Holwell with 66. David Blackley (Go-Whangarei) and Matt Keene tied on 48 votes apiece, followed by district councillor Stuart Bell on 31 and Kay Brittenden on 4.

"I'm thrilled," Ms Mai said. "Isn't that exciting that young people with fresh ideas are striking a chord with our community and it shows great potential for the future," she said of 29-year-old Mr Holwell, the youngest mayoral candidate by more than a decade.

Mr Holwell was "pretty stoked" with the result.

"It's people responding to us talking about the real issues . . . Inclusive representation, a future we can make together, climate change [and] homelessness."

He pitched himself as a "dreamer" to the packed Forum North hall.

"We can work on the big things, we are not powerless, we are many . . . Let's be bold, let's be innovative, let's dream big, let's care for each other, let's have a blast," he said.

Mr Holwell said while TogetherTahi had split its vote across two candidates, the election should be a "conversation, not a competition".

Go-Whangarei's Mr Blackley said he was not concerned with the poll result. At the meeting he said there had been many statistics presented throughout the election but "the reality is Whangarei is doing it pretty hard".

"Everyone has that same desire to have a good, safe community where our youth have support and jobs and a future. The point of difference for me is I come from an economic point of view," Mr Blackley said.

"In order to achieve any of those things we need economic growth."

Mr Bell said he had been mulling over how to sell his "normal" married with two kids, "average house in average suburb" life to voters.

"I am possibly more normal than most of the candidates, but that is my point of difference," he said.

Mr Bell said knowledge of legislation which guided council and a desire for more transparency and stronger engagement would make him a good mayor.

In relation to the poll result he said: "I didn't make any effort to get people along specially . . . So I was pleased that 31 people I didn't know voted for me.

"I'm hoping people will vote for me based on what I stand for, not what other people at the meeting think."

Mr Keene said the TogetherTahi campaign was based on community development and increased engagement. Mr Keene and Mr Holwell had live-streamed all meet-the-candidate events via Facebook.

Mr Keene shared his aspirations including: "One day I'd like to swim in the Hatea River. I want to live in a community that can say no to another fast food restaurant opening in a vulnerable suburb and paying its workers minimum wage."

Ms Brittenden said she was a nurse, experienced manager and mother with an adrenaline junkie streak.

"As mayor I would look at the successful candidates, find out their strengths, their weaknesses and work with those people to lead a strong team."

"Experience matters," was the word from incumbent Ms Mai.

"I am the only one among the six of us who can say 'I know this job' . . . We're on a roll, let's keep up the momentum, be wise with your vote, experience counts."