COMMENT:

It's Trump v Clinton, right? Hillary, that is. The pair of them are campaigning to be mayor of Auckland.

It's uncanny. John "Trumpface" Tamihere v Phil "the Downunder Hill" Goff. Bluster v boring. The outsider v the machine, frontrunners for the mayoralty.

Goff launched his campaign for re-election last month by announcing no new policies. No new programmes. He didn't make any promises. Apparently there will be policy announcements, but for now he's standing on his record. So Clinton.

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Tamihere responded with a missive full of what one might call fake news and absolutist Trumpisms. He'll be wearing a MAGA hat, Make Auckland Great Again, before this campaign is done.

Auckland has "huge" problems, Tamihere said, which Goff has "totally neglected". So "it's time we got these issues out in the open and got them sorted". Remember Trump's "we need to find out what the hell is going on"?

Tamihere had four points. The first was about transport. He said Auckland Transport (AT) is "totally out of control", using "sham consultation processes" as it creates the "huge waste of money we see around the city" and has "obvious and deliberate policies to create rather than ease congestion".

He was talking about cycle lanes. And there's a kernel of truth to it: AT is not as responsive to council directions as it should be.

But I think the problem is the reverse of what Tamihere thinks it is. AT's rollout of cycle lanes is agonisingly slow, partly because it does endless rounds of consultation. Council wants more progress on the transport strategy, not a rethink.

Still on transport, Tamihere also demanded to know why Goff hasn't "pushed back against the plan to slow the entire city down by making 700km of our roads only 30km/h".

This was fake news three times over. First, only 72km are proposed for a 30km/h speed limit, not 700. The rest of the 700km comprises some 100km/h dangerous rural roads where 80km/h and 60km/h limits are proposed.

Second, that 700km is only 10 per cent of Auckland's roads, so it's hard to see how new speed limits could possibly slow "the entire city" down. And third, in key congested areas slower speeds will surely make driving easier (and safer). On Hobson St, for example, a 30km/h limit will regulate speed in a way that enables phased lights to improve the traffic flow.

Simon Wilson interviews John Tamihere after he announces he's running for mayor.

Tamihere's next point was: "Under Goff, council spending and debt levels are out of control and no one will front to talk about it. Lack of leadership means council's spending is not held to account."

So Trumpian, and none of it is true. Goff held general rates to 2.5 per cent, as he promised to do, and he gained strong public support for special environment and water levies, before introducing them.

The council spends within its budget and debt ceiling and it has the books to show it, audited and publicly available online. It has a very high credit rating and is answerable to the Auditor-General. Goff frequently fronts to discuss spending issues.

Tamihere claimed, point three: "Under Phil's mayoralty we're seeing huge cost blowouts in infrastructure projects."

Well, it's true the cost of the City Rail Link has blown out. But as I understand it the reason predates Goff. The original estimates were done in the Fletcher era, before he was mayor, at a time when costs appear to have been set unrealistically low. Budgets are now being updated accordingly. It's pretty hard to blame Goff for that.

It is not clear yet how the council and the Government, which have 50:50 ownership of the project, are going to pay for the extra.

The America's Cup bases will also cost more than was earlier agreed. But the new figure is not nearly as high as was proposed by the council agency Panuku. That's because when Goff learned of it he insisted the project be scaled back to limit the financial damage.

And Tamihere's fourth point? "Phil's the only mayor in New Zealand that has imposed new petrol taxes on his own people."

True, but that seems to imply Goff is a renegade who's betrayed "his own people". In fact, other mayors are also keen on regional fuel taxes, but the Government won't approve them. Besides, what does "taxing his own people" mean? Taxes are always on your "own people".

Tamihere rounded off his criticism of Goff by saying he "looks like a puppet for central Government".

Is that true? Goff works closely with his Labour colleagues in the Government and they share a strategic view on many things – especially transport. It doesn't follow they're pulling his strings.

The real shame of this "Trumpian" strategy, all those "huge", "totally" and "out of control" proclamations, is that it obscures what could and should be some very real criticisms.

I agree with Tamihere that the council-controlled organisations (CCOs) are too independent, and that Goff has done little about the problems that causes. Goff campaigned on the same issue himself in 2016, and very noisily attacked the council's tourism agency Ateed soon after he became mayor. But then he went quiet.

The decision-making is especially frustrating at AT and Panuku, the council's commercially focused "placemaking" agency, and at Ports of Auckland, which is technically not a CCO but is council owned.

Panuku does much good work, but it appears to have bamboozled Goff on the waterfront, not only with the America's Cup bases but also with Queens Wharf, discussed in this column last week. Ostensibly, Panuku runs the wharf, after the port company sold it to the council and the Government for $40 million in 2008.

But in my view that's a front. In every real sense Queens Wharf is still controlled by Ports of Auckland for its own commercial purposes. The demands of the cruise ships get absolute priority and Goff seems to have meekly accepted this.

He doesn't have to. If he'd stood up to Ports of Auckland and Panuku those cruise ships could, by now, be berthing on Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharves.

But that's not his style. He seems more at home as an operational guy, a details guy, rather than a leader. It's very rare for Goff to champion anything new or controversial.

He has had some wins, especially on the environment. He's beefed up green spending and a million trees will be planted this term, as promised. Every time it rains heavily in Auckland the drains flood and human effluent turns up on the beaches – and Goff has started the process to fix that. Before him, the project was on a long-term never-never planning cycle.

But while those things are invaluable, they are not controversial. Everyone wants the drains fixed.

The only vested interests Goff has stood up to are hotel owners, over the bed tax, and he had public support. He hasn't attempted to shift public opinion, on anything. Water infrastructure aside, he doesn't appear to have any big goals.

Goff is a political insider whose decades of experience have convinced him he knows how to work the system. But is he right? Or has he been captured by the system and now it's working him?

That's just like Hillary Clinton, and she couldn't see it either.

We deserve better. Better than an administrator lost in detail. And better than a blowhard.

I reckon Goff and Tamihere both have the potential to be better than that. This election, will they give us their better selves?