In less than two months Aucklanders will vote on who will be mayor — and the race between incumbent Phil Goff and John Tamihere is getting feisty.
The thought of local body elections can make many ratepayers' eyes glaze over. But they really shouldn't. Voters aren't deciding just on who will win the mayoral chains. Councillors, local boards, district health boards and even — in west Auckland — the licensing trusts are all up for election. Between them they're responsible for decisions that affect Aucklanders — ranging from potholes and rubbish collection to fixing the city's transport woes and the port's future.
It helps if there is a lively contest to stimulate interest, and we are starting to see that in Goff v Tamihere. John Banks has ruled himself out, and John Palino this week announced he was pulling out and backing Tamihere, though he will still stand for the Franklin Ward. This makes the contest essentially a two-horse race: Goff's stability and experience against the populism of Tamihere, who is pledging to shake up the halls of power.
The gloves came off an inch at a debate this week, when Tamihere compared Goff to the former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Goff retorted by describing Tamihere as a "failed cabinet minister". Tamihere took some potshots at his rival's record on homelessness and transport while Goff criticised Tamihere's tough talk as divisive.
The two will clash again, including at an NZME debate next Wednesday.
There are no surprises about the big issues likely to sway voters: Transport and rates. The election could well shape as a referendum on Goff's transport policy, which is based on record spending and a big push towards public transport.
JT will do well if he can convince voters there's a "war on cars". Goff will do well if he can convince them the transport spend is making a difference.
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Aside from the mayoralty, there are wards that will be heavily contested, including Waitemata and Gulf, North Shore and Whau.
An interesting facet of the Goff/Tamihere battle is that both are ostensibly from the left. However, Tamihere is more of an outsider: Former National Party President Michelle Boag is part of his campaign team and the Labour Party this year refused to renew his membership.
Nevertheless, the political positioning does raise the enticing prospect of a late challenger from the right. The deadline for entries is noon on Friday, so there is still an opportunity for a big-name candidate to join the race. In the 2017 general election, Jacinda Ardern showed how a latecomer could ride a groundswell of public support all the way into office.
From the public's perspective, the more diverse the range of candidates — and the more exciting the debate — the better. Noon on Friday is also the deadline for entering the electoral roll, so now's a good chance to get involved.
JT v Goff has the hallmarks of a memorable battle, but the democratic process would be even better served by a third player from the right.