Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere says his Catholic faith and belief in the power of redemption has helped him through the tough times.
1 Growing up in working class Pt Chevalier and Avondale, did you always want to be a lawyer?
No, our world then was black and white. If you got School C you had a shot of going somewhere. The half who didn't were destined for the factories on Rosebank Rd. At one of the Maori land meetings my family used to host, a great-uncle grabbed me and said, "This boy's the only one that's got School C. We need him to go to law school so we've got our own lawyer." My first case was getting back our family land down in Waihi.
2 You became CEO of the Waipareira Trust at age 24. What are you proudest of achieving there?
A belief in our people that we can rise above difficulties. It doesn't matter how many times you fall from grace, at Waipareira we practice the right of redemption. We've built a culture of resilience in vulnerable communities.
3 How did you personally develop resilience?
When you're ninth out of twelve kids growing up on a small section and your sisters can run as hard as your brothers, you have to be able knock over bigger people. As a consequence, I've never been intimidated by size or strength or stand-over merchants. It doesn't matter whether they're a gangster with a patch or a white collar, they use the same bullying strategies. It's just different tools – a baseball bat or a gold pen. If you can stand up to that, you're in pretty good stead.
4 What did you learn from your six years in Parliament?
I tried to do too much too soon. When you do that, you end up cutting your throat with your own tongue. There's no doubt that happened. I was also in a very constrained environment; monopolised by a strong leader in Helen Clark. It was her way or the highway. Ultimately, it was the highway for me, but I learned so much in that time. What matters is that you leave yourself open to change.
5 You defended the foreshore and seabed legislation on Labour's behalf. How do you feel about that now?
Sometimes in a bad situation, you have to go for the best possible deal. I had to run against the herd, my own herd too, so that was difficult. You have to be strong in your own conscience and spirituality, and you need the support of family. My long-suffering wife Awerangi has been my anchor. What I deeply regret now is the impact it had on my children. They didn't tell me at the time they were being bullied because they didn't want to add to the pressure on me.
6 What have you learned from your wife's parents Sir Mason and Arohia Durie?
Both are professors, so they express themselves differently to me. I come from the other side of the street. My mother-in-law summed it up best when she said, "We agree with a lot of what you say but we don't agree with the way you say it." Having one of the country's top shrinks in the family was useful when Labour was trying to run me out after the Ian Wishart interview. (Michael) Cullen rang and said he thought I was having a breakdown so he'd booked me in to see a psychiatrist. I rang my-father-in-law and asked if he thought I was a nutcase. He said 'no' but I was going through a stressful time and everyone reacts to pressure differently. I cancelled the appointment.
7 What's your relationship with your Catholic faith?
Mum was disowned by her Irish Catholic family for marrying my Maori dad so we never really knew her side of the family, but we were brought up Catholic. I wouldn't be running this mayoral campaign without the support of my St Peter's old boys. There are times in life when you go through doubt but ultimately, in your deepest, darkest moments, it's the only beacon of light you can reach for to bring solace. I find that helpful when I'm called on by families in my community to assist with difficult things like deciding whether to turn off life support or having to exhume a loved one buried in the wrong place in error.
8 How did the conviction of your brother David Tamihere in 1990 for the murder of two Swedish tourists affect you?
It affected me deeply. At the time, I was on a high trajectory in the public service; the youngest regional manager of Maori Affairs. I'd just been offered a senior role in the Iwi Transition Agency. The CEO told me he had to withdraw the job offer because there was too much heat around me and my brother was 'damaged goods' so I had to start my career from scratch with a legal practice in Otahuhu. Every member of our family was investigated by the IRD or MSD. The police executed search warrants of our home, sometimes three times a day. Being up against the full power of the state is pretty tough.
9 Did it make a rebel of you?
No. This might sound perverse, but I've always been a great believer in the rule of law. I've seen the law corrupted and wrongly applied, but there's no perfect system and at least ours - for all its warts - is better than a lot of others. You've got to play with the rulebook that's laid out in front of you unless you can change the rulebook. I've tried many times to do that.
10 How much power does a mayor actually have?
The mayor has significant powers; to set the budget agenda, to select the deputy mayor and all the committee chairs, to appoint the boards of five council controlled Organisations and to issue a shareholders' letter of expectation telling those CEOs how to operate. Mayoral candidates are elected on a policy position. If I win that mandate, the councillors will have to work with me rather than the other way around.
11 What are your top priorities for change?
I'll freeze the rates, that's fiscally doable - the evidence is clear, get rid of the regional fuel tax, sack the board of Auckland Transport and set up my integrity unit. A clean-up is coming. Then I'll go after central government and get undertakings from both National and Labour to bring the investment in Auckland's state highways forward by five years; at the moment they've got 10 years to pay it out. We need a mayor that's willing to take the fight to Wellington.
12 Wouldn't it be more effective to work with the government?
Well it hasn't worked so far. Look at the roadworks at Takanini and Massey; they cause huge congestion. Anywhere else they'd be working on them 24/7 but here its five days a week, six hours a day. Most of the work's going on the cycleway alongside. That is a rort. That's why Labour fear me; they know I'll be demanding resources are put back into our city.
13 Bonus question: Do you think your "sieg heil" comment sunk your campaign?
No. Where I come from, that's how we talk about someone who's being authoritarian. Anyone that's too uppity gets the Sieg Heil or the Nazi salute behind their back. The RSAs I've visited are all behind me. Our uncles died to protect our freedom of speech. Despite what the commentariat says my campaign's going well. My Facebook videos get 50,000 views. You'd be surprised who's voting for me.
Today is the last day to post your voting papers. (Tues 8 Oct) You can still drop them in a ballot box at any library or service centre by midday Sat 12 Oct. If your voting papers have not arrived, you need to cast a special vote. www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/elections/