The next mayor of Lincoln Rd is Wayne Brown, although the overwhelming preference is that immortal candidate in all local body politics, Couldn't Care Less.
I conducted one of the least scientific polls in modern or even ancient political history on Wednesday when I canvassed opinion on the Auckland mayoralty during a day-long march up and down the iconic and always revealing street of Lincoln Rd, that 3.2km stretch of roading that signals the bright lights of civilisation to the troglodytes coming in from their homes on the West Coast beaches, and ends at the turn-off to State Highway 16, which it greatly resembles.
There is more traffic on Lincoln Rd than any other street in Auckland. It's the gridlocked heart of the city, its hungry vortex – there are an amazing 59 food joints along its banks, and I ate at every single one of them in 2016, recording that happy experience in my book The Man Who Ate Lincoln Rd. I ate and recorded from a conviction that the food joints were "a dynamo of popular culture". The good people of Auckland went there, so I went there, too, to eat whey they ate (fries, pies, pizza, other related food groups) and ask about their lives. I ended up fat and wise. The year gave me an understanding of Auckland life.
I set out again on Wednesday to gain an understanding of the Auckland mayoralty.
"I have one question," I said to passersby filling their faces with a limited range of food groups. "Who are you going to vote for mayor?" I approached 59 people (to match the number of food joints) and the results are:
• Wayne Brown, 17 votes.
• Efeso Collins, 6 votes.
• Couldn't Care Less, Don't Know, Not Sure Yet, Go Away, 36 votes.
Big victory for Couldn't Care Less. There were times when local body political fever ran hot during my day-long canvassing but mostly the good people on Lincoln Rd had no time to run any kind of fever. The greatest indifference occurred at the North Centre, one of the many groupings of strip malls along Lincoln Rd that give it such a lack of character. In quick succession I was told "No", "No, thanks", "No, I'm good", "No, I'm okay", and, by a Russian-sounding gentleman glowering outside Roadside Kebab: "Not interest." I think the problem is that they thought I was homeless, and asking for money. North Centre is a particular magnet for rough sleepers and their presence was raised as a subject by six people who did speak to me at the strip mall – and all six said they would vote for Wayne Brown.
"Wayne'll fix it," said Jeff Craig, 57, who was taking home a bag of 10 Bavarian Crème munchkins from Dunkin' Doughnuts for lunch. "See that guy over there?" He pointed to a homeless man with his face pressed against the Dunkin' Doughnuts window. "They had to tackle him to the ground last week. Auckland is a bit of a shambles, isn't it? So yeah. Brown."
"Good timing," said Angela Jenkins, 50, who held up a stack of envelopes: she was on her way to vote for Wayne Brown. "I'm sick of South Auckland getting everything. It's time West Auckland got a look-in. We need another pool." WestWave in Henderson was not enough. Did she think Brown would provide another pool? "I don't know. But he'll cut through the bureaucracy."
The idea of Brown as a dose of cold salts also appealed to David Avulamanda, who was having a lunch break at Burger King with his wife Geetha. "I'm not saying I've made up my mind to vote for him," he said, "but how many people at council are there earning six figures, and what are they doing all day? Mr Brown has something to say about that."
"But we need younger blood coming through," said Geetha, who made favourable comments about Efeso Collins. I asked if they sometimes voted differently and they laughed and said yes; in the last general election she'd voted Labour, he'd voted National. But if the Auckland mayoralty was a left-right divide, then the right was winning Lincoln Rd.
There have been major developments in recent times on the golden mile of Lincoln Rd. One, a massive new retirement complex is under construction. Two, Nando's Chicken closed, and has been replaced by the cheaper and possibly even tastier option of Wicked Chicken – an amazing 100 per cent New Zealand franchise, the brainchild of Kamanie Silochan, who has opened eight stores across Auckland while being a fulltime carer to her ailing mum. (I wish she'd run for mayor; a person of that much industry, initiative and compassion would have my vote.) Three, Columbus Coffee closed, and has been replaced by Starbucks.
A Starbucks on Lincoln Rd! It ought to give the street a bit of class but it looks exactly the same as Columbus Coffee used to and has the same strange, seething vibe which I always picked up on over the years. I approached two middle-aged guys who regarded me as something worse than homeless: a journalist. "First thing I used to do in the morning was read my Bible and then the paper," seethed the more intense of the two men. "Not any more. You had your moment in the sun, and you lost it. You're a puppet. You write that our children should be immunised, and other lies. You - "
I interrupted him and asked who he was voting for. He said there needed to be an entirely new system of government and his mate agreed. In many ways it was a worthless conversation but I record it here as evidence of the widespread conviction that old models (media, politics) are broken, impossible to trust, irrelevant.
Two other guys sitting together at Starbucks, who would only give their names as Rob (62) and Alan (67), were less radical but just as forthright. Phil Goff, they said, had been a disaster. Efeso Collins, they said, would make things even worse: "He's talking about a bicycle lane on the Harbour Bridge. Not having any of that." Wayne Brown, they said, knew how to run a business. "Don't go thinking I'm a racist," said Alan. I hadn't, but his comment made me alert to the possibilities, and then he scorned Dominion Rd as "Chinatown". Racism is the first resort of scoundrels, followed quickly by a thirst for law enforcement; on cue, Rob expressed a fear that the underground rail network would be a magnet for the homeless. "We'll need transit cops," he said.
The first people I spoke to who had a good word for Efeso Collins were Dennis and Pam Oxley, 80 and 76 respectively, in the carpark outside Pak'nSave. "I like Mr Collins," said Dennis. "I like his ethnic background. He's a people person. Mr Brown might be alright as a businessman but you can't run a council as big as Auckland just on a business plan. Mr Collins knows the ins and outs of council."
Another couple in the carpark of similar vintage, Len and Pam Byles, posted their forms last week. Both voted for Collins. Len liked Collins's free public transport policy; it would have a practical benefit for working people, but Brown and other candidates were more interested in "grandiose plans". Like the Oxleys, he saw Collins as someone who knew the lay of the land.
KFC, Sal's Pizza, Shen's Takeaways…The air carried the tang of salt, cooking oil, and budget lives. Harold Tautari, 39, was parked outside The Money Shop. His mum had gone in to get a quick loan to pay some bills. Harold was earning good money, $1500 in the hand per week as a painter on industrial sites, until a car accident. "I got on the piss and the back wheel locked up and I had a head-on with another car. I broke my femur in three places and I got a head injury cos I went through the windscreen." He was now on $250 a week on the benefit. "Yeah. Pretty hard, bro." He had no interest and no idea about the Auckland mayoralty.
I got Harold an L&P at West City Bakery and myself a mince savoury, and interviewed Eleanor O'Brien, 41, who was buying her 7-year-old a birthday cake at The Cheesecake Shop. "Wayne Brown," she said. "We're all looking for a change, aren't we? A change to the right."
It was simple and resonant message. Just then a man walked past and said, "That savoury yours, mate?" I'd placed it in a paper bag on the bonnet of Eleanor's car, but it'd fallen onto the pavement. "Cheers," I said, and was about to ask him for his views but he disappeared inside the Peaches and Cream adult shop. Lincoln Rd caters to every appetite. Politics is something that happens while you're making other plans.