COMMENT:

John Tamihere will not stand for mayor in next year's council elections. To be clear, I don't know this for sure. But it's not likely. With the election due on October 12, just 12 months away, the numbers are against him, so is the money and so is the politics.

Even so, he's absolutely right about social and affordable housing and it's time the council got serious about it. When he told a council meeting yesterday they should build social housing on the Remuera golf course instead of "rating poor people out of the city", he was thrusting quite a big stake into the ground.

I'll come back to that. Whether Tamihere stands or not, the elections next year will not be business as usual. There'll be retirements and probably a few upsets too. With large-scale transport and housing projects under construction, or soon to be, all over the city, the vote will be a plebiscite on the council's vision for a more compact, busier and safer city.

Advertisement

Penny Hulse won't be there. Deputy mayor for two terms from 2010, but not now, and deputy mayor of Waitākere City before that, Hulse is one of the West's favourite daughters. She topped the poll citywide in 2016. Now, she says, "It's time to move on".

You don't have to be a partisan to recognise Hulse's skills. She's so good at promoting the council's programme for Auckland, the west has been afflicted with almost none of the blowback that surfaces in other parts of town.

What's her secret? Hulse is an expert at community engagement. She was a local activist before she was a councillor and she knows how to listen, how to consult from the ground up and how to inspire confidence. Unlike some of her colleagues, she does not view leadership as a licence to foment discontent for the sake of votes.

She's a moderate change agent, an incrementalist not a radical, but that doesn't dent her commitment. She will be missed.

Why won't Tamihere stand? First, the numbers. In the three mayoral elections for the Super City an average of 340,000 votes have been cast for the leading candidates (it was 350,000 in 2016). Very consistently, the centre-left has gained 60 per cent of those votes. While the centre-right has always won the North Shore and the eastern suburbs, the centre-left has won everywhere else.

The leading centre-right candidate has won a consistent 110,000 votes in the last two elections, which suggests that's their minimum haul, whoever they stand. A decent high-profile candidate could win quite a lot more.

Mayor Phil Goff has indicated he's likely to stand again, so Tamihere would be competing with him for the centre-left vote. They'd get perhaps 250,000 votes between them. It's hard to see Tamihere beating Goff, but if he did well enough to split the vote, a strong centre-right candidate might just beat them both. Is that what Tamihere wants?

The second issue is money. Goff has a war chest from the 2016 election that still has at least $250,000 in it. It gives him an enormous headstart, and he has access to Labour Party fundraising machinery too.

Advertisement

Tamihere could do a Bernie Sanders thing and raise lots of little amounts of money, but could he generate the big social movement you need to make that happen?

Which leads to the politics. Who's going to vote for John Tamihere? Not anyone appalled by his attitude to the Roast Busters scandal of 2013, when he seemed to trivialise rape complaints by teenagers. Nor anyone who remembers his barely disguised scorn for Helen Clark when he was a cabinet minister in her government.

In contrast, he has considerable mana for the excellent work he does building resilience and community resources among urban Māori, as CEO of Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust in Henderson. That gives him a strong base – but it's not a wide one.

National Party muse Michelle Boag has welcomed his interest in the contest, but possibly not because she wants him to be mayor. His views on the future of the Remuera golf course won't endear him all that much to her political tribe.

Even so, Māori are underrepresented on council and it would be great if that changed. So could Tamihere stand in Waitākere, his local ward, for the seat Penny Hulse is leaving vacant? He likes to be the boss, so that doesn't seem like the gig for him.

Women are also under-represented (seven out of 20 councillors plus mayor) and young people even more so. Currently only one councillor is under 40 and only three more are under 50. Tamihere, who turns 60 next year, could do worse than sponsor a progressive candidate to help address all of those shortages.

When he fronted up to council yesterday he told them they were not doing enough on social and affordable housing. It's so true. When the Unitary Plan was adopted in 2012 councillors removed all requirements for lower-cost housing options in larger projects. They convinced themselves that planners of goodwill would do it wherever necessary anyway. Duh.

Instead, the council's development agency Panuku has tried to maximise its returns by leaving out budget housing even when it's obvious it should be included – the proposed project on the corner of Dominion Rd and Valley Rd in Mt Eden is an obvious example.

That Panuku has been allowed to do this calls into question the commitment to inclusive city building of the mayor, the council, senior council officials and Panuku itself.

Panuku, said Tamihere yesterday, responded to an approach by Te Waipareira by telling them to "get lost". He said if necessary they would take Panuku to court. Yes, it was a threat.

The matter will come back before council on October 2, when a report from the Mayor's Housing Taskforce is presented. Goff said during a break in the meeting yesterday that it's not appropriate to insist all developments include affordable housing. But, he said, that should be the norm, so exceptions have to make their case. That's very good thinking.

When the election comes up next year, Hulse won't be the only councillor to move on. Sir John Walker is too ill with Parkinson's disease to seek another term and several of the older councillors may also decide they've served their time.

Meanwhile, voters in the Howick ward have elected Paul Young to replace the late Dick Quax. Young was sworn in at the council meeting yesterday, complete with dragon dancers, and is now the city's first Chinese-born councillor.

His politics are on the right, as were Quax's, and he honoured Quax in his inaugural speech. But no, he did not sing, "Every time you go away you take a piece of me with you".

But he did say he was "very excited" about the Eastern Busway project, which will bring rapid transit to his ward. Quax wouldn't have said that.

Twelve months and counting down: Goff enjoys a comfortable majority with broad support on council, but it all goes in the line next October.