An Auckland mayoral election with no fewer than 19 candidates presents voters with a dismaying task.
None except long-serving Labour MP Phil Goff are well known, which is probably why he has scored 31 per cent in a poll by the Spinoff/Survey Sampling International published yesterday. None of the others broke single figures. The voters' task would be easier if the candidates carried a recognisable political affiliation but not even Goff is wearing a party hat. All declare themselves "independent" or "none", except the likes of those standing in the name of Communist League, Auckland Legalise Cannabis and Christians Against Abortion.
Single-issue affiliations seem pointless in a mayoral election and it's hard to know why these candidates bother. A little publicity seems hardly worth the effort, and the handful of votes they can expect will not advance their cause. They and other unknowns are creating difficulties for residents' associations that organise public meetings in their locality for voters to assess the candidates. The prospect of listening to 19 pitches, even if restricted to something like five minutes apiece, is not an enticing evening.
If the organisers are looking for some fair and reasonable criteria to restrict their invitations, it is hard to find. Local government experience would be a reasonable pre-requisite for mayor but only Mark Thomas appears to have had any, as a member of the Orakei Local Board. David Hay and possibly others have worked in the sector. But experience is not rated highly by all voters. Many are looking for fresh faces.
Goff's nearest but distant rival, Victoria Crone (8 per cent), will be hoping enough voters are looking for a change. But she has been the unofficial standard-bearer of the centre-right for nine months now and has made little impression. She puts her hopes in the as-yet undecided voters, 44 per cent of the poll, but most of them are likely non-voters in local elections. The presence of three known centre-right candidates, Crone, Thomas and John Palino, makes it even more likely Goff will be the next mayor.
The centre-right's failure to coalesce around one outstanding candidate is a mystery, especially to the centre-left who gave the city Len Brown. The mayoralty has not attracted centre-right members of the council despite the executive powers placed in the office by the designers of the Super City. Council members know too well the elected positions are not very powerful in a practical sense. The council mostly discusses broad policy principles that may be more interesting to the centre-left.
But at least the council elections look more manageable for voters. Most wards have 6-9 candidates for two seats and those with more, Howick and North Shore, have candidates either fairly well known or with clear affiliations. It is a pity the same can't be said for the mayoral contest. Goff may be the probable winner but he should face a searching examination. Does a parliamentary veteran have the vigour, enthusiasm and panache to lead the city well? Watch him and decide.