Veteran politician John Carter says this is ''definitely'' his last term after 24 years in Parliament and what will be three terms as Far North mayor, if early voting results are confirmed.
With almost 2500 votes still be counted at edition time last night, Carter was leading the 11-way race with 5018 votes to his former deputy Tania McInnes' 3223.
The next closest were outspoken councillor Dave ''Bear'' Hookway on 2931 votes, Kaitaia businessman Monty Knight on 2033 and reformed gang leader Jay Hepi on 1024.
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Usually the preliminary results — which include everything but special votes — are known by Sunday morning but officials were still counting late yesterday after an unprecedented last-minute rush.
Carter, 69, said he had at least three years of ''seriously good energy'' left and wanted one last term so he could see a number of major projects through to completion.
They included a council restructuring and PGF-funded ventures such as an industrial park and irrigation lakes at Kaikohe as well as council projects such as Kaitaia's sports hub.
Carter acknowledged there had been ''a whole lot of negative stuff'' in the past term such as lapsed bylaws, the dog bylaw fiasco and criticisms of council transparency.
''But I'm honoured that the community has put an investment in me they know they're going to get a return from. It's been 30 years now, and I'm honoured and proud and privileged to be given that opportunity.''
The key lesson from the campaign was that the council was not doing a good enough job of communicating with the public.
''We need to be telling the community about the positives, and also acknowledging the negatives and what we can do to address them.''
He believed voters had opted largely for the status quo — if confirmed in the final results — because many candidates had started campaigning only six weeks ahead of the election, so people didn't have a chance to get to know them or what they stood for.
Carter said he was happy with the new batch of councillors, who offered ''a serious opportunity to develop a team that will work well together''.
Mayoral candidate and outgoing deputy mayor Tania McInnes did not contest a council seat so is out of a job unless there's a massive shift in last-minute votes.
''There's so many learnings to take from this campaign, for all of us. I'm 100 per cent committed to serving our people and our place and am really looking forward to the next part of my journey. I genuinely wish the new council all the best,'' McInnes said.
Jay Hepi, a former gang member who now co-ordinates the Man Up programme in Northland, said he was disappointed with the result.
''We put a lot of hard work into getting the Māori vote, but there was still only a low percentage of Māori voters who turned out.''
The four mayoral candidates who finished ahead of him were all current or former councillors with established followings, whereas he had had to build up a profile from scratch.
Dave Hookway could not be contacted.