The political aspirations of Destiny Church's Brian and Hannah Tamaki will make a show in this year's local body elections with their backing of a reformed gang leader running for mayor of the Far North.

Jay Hepi will announce a run for mayor of the Far North District Council at midday in Kaikohe with the Tamakis at his side.

He's a former leader of the Tribesman and of the Rebels Motorcycle Club, two gangs notorious for their links to the drug trade and organised crime.

In recent years, Hepi has renounced his gang connections and is now described as the Northland regional facilitator of the Destiny-linked ManUp organisation, which runs a programme that purportedly aims to put men on a positive path in life.


Brian Tamaki tries to build a rainbow bridge with gay community
Destiny Church's Hannah Tamaki to lead new party 'Coalition New Zealand'
Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church comes of age after a generation of controversy
Coalition NZ campaign manager Jevan Goulter raises death penalty plan

Hepi said he was standing because the Far North council hadn't paid heed to all its communities, with those living in comparatively affluent Kerikeri and Paihia enjoying greater benefits than other areas.

He said there were "blood clots" in the council's financial and representation circulatory system.

"The council needs a heart transplant so the blood flows to all of these areas."

Hepi, who had never voted in local body politics, said there were many like him who had not got involved because they didn't believe it was possible to make a difference.

Bishop Brian Tamaki and Pastor Hannah Tamaki launching Coalition NZ earlier this year. Photo / Mike Scott
Bishop Brian Tamaki and Pastor Hannah Tamaki launching Coalition NZ earlier this year. Photo / Mike Scott

"We've never been educated in that way - that our vote is going to count."

Brian Tamaki told the Herald the promotion of Hepi as a candidate for mayor in the Far North was part of the wider political aspirations of those aligned with Destiny.

He said Hepi's campaign would be aimed at encouraging Maori in the Far North to vote.


"Jay will be running with the Man Up organisation behind him. He wants to give the people of the Far North a go to get out of poverty."

Tamaki said Far North politics suffered from a lack of Maori representation and voter engagement, despite having one of the highest Maori populations in the country.

Hepi's campaign would "get a lot of the Maori up north who have not been voting to get out of the bottom and get in to the top".

Improved Maori employment and housing were aspirations Hepi would take into the campaign, he said.

Tamaki said Hepi's reputation as a gang leader who had seen the darker - and criminal - side of life in the Far North would secure his authority among voters as a candidate who understood the issues facing communities.

It is understood the Man Up connection - and its associated Legacy group for women - is one Brian Tamaki hopes will put feet on the ground to encourage those who don't normally vote to cast their ballot.

Bishop Brian Tamaki on a Man Up ride in 2017. Photo / File
Bishop Brian Tamaki on a Man Up ride in 2017. Photo / File

Coming ahead of next year's national election, in which Coalition NZ is expected to stand candidates, it would partly operate as a trial run to see if Man Up and Legacy members could be mobilised to increase voter turnout.

Coalition NZ was launched with Hannah Tamaki as its leader. Brian Tamaki's promotion of Hepi's candidacy puts both of the couple firmly in the political arena.

The Man Up movement claims 300 satellite groups across the country.

"We've got to mobilise people so they can see the future is in their hands."

He said any assistance would be with clear recognition of electoral laws, in terms of helping people cast a vote while not influencing the vote they cast.

He also said there would be no funding of Hepi's political campaign from himself or Destiny.

Tamaki took the opportunity to attack Kelvin Davis, the Labour MP for Tai Tokerau and deputy leader of the Labour Party, who is also Minister of Corrections and of Crown-Maori relations.

He had attempted to pick a political fight with Davis earlier in the year over apparent difficulties in getting the Man Up programme into prisons. It turned out Man Up hadn't actually applied.

Tamaki described Davis as a "totara post" - stuck in the ground and doing nothing.

Former gang leader turned Man Up advocate and mayoral aspirant, Jay Hepi. Photo / Supplied
Former gang leader turned Man Up advocate and mayoral aspirant, Jay Hepi. Photo / Supplied

The move into the Far North is likely to raise questions about former MP and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's possible return to national politics. Hepi and Harawira know each other well, working together on the Far North's growing rugby league organisation.

Harawira and Tamaki had been photographed together recently, and Coalition NZ's campaign manager Jevan Goulter was once Harawira's Parliamentary staffer and media handler.

Along with Hepi's involvement in league, he has also represented New Zealander in kick boxing and run boxing gyms.