COMMENT:

As I walk into Conor Hill's campaign launch party he makes a joke about how he tried to hire the Wharewaka for the occasion but it was booked out.

The difference between Hill's campaign launch event and Justin Lester's, which was held at the waterfront's Wharewaka, couldn't be more extreme.

Hill held his launch at the home his two sisters share in Newtown. About 20 of his family members and close friends showed up to hear a brief speech from the 36-year-old. In true Wellington fashion, Parrotdog beers were on hand.

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He didn't waste time with addressing comments made about his lack of experience.

"It's true that I haven't had the commercial success of a Colin Craig, a Kim Dotcom, or a Gareth Morgan. Nor do I have the governance experience of a Jenny Shipley at Mainzeal, a John Key at ANZ, or a Doug Graham at Lombard Finance."

But speaking to the Herald following his speech Hill said that jokes aside, and while he may be an underdog needing a lot of things to go right, he believed he had a genuine chance of winning against Lester.

"The issues I am campaigning on have a strong support base. Many people think housing in Wellington is unaffordable, that our transport system is broken, that climate change is real and that vanity projects should be cancelled. I believe people who think these things will support me."

Conor Hill will have his work cut out for him running as an independent against the Labour machine. Photo / Supplied
Conor Hill will have his work cut out for him running as an independent against the Labour machine. Photo / Supplied

Hill's announcement two weeks ago that he was running for Wellington's mayoralty was strategic. He is the first and only one to publicly announce a bid against the incumbent.

He might have doubted whether that strategy had paid off when media largely ignored his announcement.

But a few days later Hill was being quoted as Lester's opposition and just a week later he landed a front page with one of his policies.

Lester officially launched his campaign in early May.

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Finance Minister and Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson sang his praises before introducing him to a crowd of hundreds.

Lester has the power of the Labour machine behind him, the name recognition and what many people refer to as "Brand Lester".

All of this will be difficult for a relatively unknown independent like Hill to take on.

But luckily Hill has plenty of experience with door-knocking, after doing the rounds for the Labour Party in local and national elections.

Lester also opted to lighten the mood at the beginning of his launch speech by telling a story about when he was first voted in as mayor in 2016.

He was so nervous about living up to expectations his campaign manager gave him a shot of Jagermeister, which he swiftly "necked", he told the crowd.

But now, two and a half years on from that night he said he felt confident about where the city is and what he has delivered during his first term.

Justin Lester will undoubtedly be sitting on a series of other policies, which he'll strategically roll out when he has a gauge on who his competition is. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justin Lester will undoubtedly be sitting on a series of other policies, which he'll strategically roll out when he has a gauge on who his competition is. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Lester had reporters from several news outlets waiting to grill him after he delivered his speech.

Hill just had me, who turned up on a day off work.

Lester announced three campaign promises, removing vehicles from the Golden Mile, Ending Homelessness and a Welcome Home package for refugees.

Two out of three of those policies already have a significant amount of Government money pledged for them.

Lester is undoubtedly sitting on a series of other policies, which he'll strategically roll out when he has a gauge on who his competition is.

That will become clear over the next month with local body election candidate nominations closing at midday on August 16.

But until those candidates are revealed, if any at all, Hill will be making the most of the airtime that comes with filling a competition vacuum.