What do we want from our next mayor?
I know people who would make a great mayor. They're superbly skilled at getting things done, not on their own but by building teams. They know how to generate popular support and are comfortable among a wide diversity of people. They can manage scarce resources, dissect the workings of an organisation, stand up to entitled loud-mouths and listen carefully to the quieter voices. They're very good at handling people who just say no.
Sadly, none of them is standing for mayor.
Perhaps I'm asking too much. What sort of person do we need?
Candidate Wayne Brown, an engineer and property developer, says most of the big spending goes on infrastructure so we need someone who knows how to build things. That would be him.
Candidates Viv Beck and Leo Molloy say the mayor should know about business in the city, by which is often meant retail business, so that would be one of them.
She's chief executive of the business association Heart of the City and spent several years as chair of the council's Central City Advisory Board (CCAB). He's a long-time proprietor of Viaduct bars and restaurants.
The next mayor will face some enormous challenges. Covid has decimated council finances; the inner city is blighted, transport remains deeply problematic, the housing market and other factors have sharply widened the gap between rich and poor. The ongoing Covid pandemic and the climate crisis threaten to confound every well-made plan.
If you think this calls for business experience, you may be looking at Brown or Molloy.
But if you believe older, middle-class white businessmen like them have been running the city forever and are the demographic that got us into this mess, you're more likely considering Beck or Fa'anana Efeso Collins.
Lord help us, you might be thinking, doesn't Tāmaki Makaurau deserve a mayor who is young(ish) and/or brown and/or not a man?
What about experience of council, of knowing how things work?
Molloy and Craig Lord, who runs a digital consultancy, both say nope, it's time for an outsider.
But Collins, who is a two-term councillor and former local board chair, says his experience at the council table is invaluable. Although, because he's not one of Phil Goff's senior councillors, he's a kind of outsider too.
Beck has worked closely with the council, so she also has chops as an outsider who knows how things work. As for Brown, he's been the crisis-management chair of health boards and power boards, investigated the strategic value of the port and been a two-term mayor already, in the Far North. He's an extremely experienced outsider.
They all have relevant experience, one way or another. But how much of it is essential?
My answer? None of it.
Despite what they might say, there is no universal template for a good mayor. Whatever they know about – managing people, or the pressures on business, or what it's like to be poor – will be a strength. But if it blinds them to the importance of other skills and experiences, it will also be a weakness.
Whatever they bring to the job, they need the self-awareness to know what they don't bring – and the skill to draw around them people who can make up those deficits.
They do need the ability to read a spreadsheet, but they don't need to be an accountancy whizz.
They don't need to have grown up in South Auckland, either, but they do need meaningful relationships with people who did. That's also true for Botany, West Auckland, the North Shore and other parts of town with their own distinctive demographics.
One of the worst things for any political leader to do is to start thinking everybody is the same as them. In Auckland, especially, that's so not true.
The main thing is, it's not what they do but how well they do it.
There are some core skills in political leadership and they have surprisingly little to do with previous work experience. Business people, teachers, social workers, scientists, professional sports players, truck drivers, investment bankers, activists: All of them learn skills they can deploy in politics, but there is no job that will inherently make someone good at it.
Political leaders have to be likeable: If we don't like them, we won't listen to them. They have to know how to earn and keep our trust. Unlike in business, they have to be able to work with people they didn't choose for their team and can't get rid of.
They have to build and maintain a social licence for their programme, know what better looks like, be able to prioritise and fight the right fights. They need the work habit to process enormous piles of information and understand different perspectives. They need – this is a surprisingly rare skill – to be able to make decisions.
And they need good judgment. Partly, that's the ability to understand the likely results of their decisions.
And partly, it's knowing what's really important.
Because on top of all the personal qualities a good mayor needs, there is a small list of critical policy issues. And as the campaign plays out, this list will reveal which candidates are fools, or dangerous, or both.
1. Managing the budget
Because of Covid, Auckland Council revenues are in crisis. The problem is not wanton spending: They've already been through several rounds of cost-cutting. It's income. The pandemic has decimated revenue from public transport, services like swimming pools and investments including the airport.
In my view, any candidate who does not put equity issues front and centre of their budget proposals will be a danger to the health and wellbeing of most of the citizens of this city.
That means good access to public transport and a whole range of social and community services, especially in relation to social housing, the poorer suburbs and new housing areas.
2. Saving the central city
The central city has been badly damaged: by work-from-home and also the departure of many businesses to locations like Wynyard Quarter; by the closure of shops and the decisions of property owners to leave them empty; by construction disruption and delays; by the violence and other criminal behaviour that has become more common.
This is a worldwide Covid-related phenomenon and any mayoral candidate who claims the solution is to "go back to the way things were" is a fool. Like it or not, the pre-Covid world has gone now.
We need a new vision for Queen St that's about much more than cars, and a coherent way to achieve it.
3. Fixing the transport crisis
The transport crisis has two parts: Congestion and climate change.
The fools? Every candidate who believes we do not need to try to reduce the number of cars on our roads.
This means making public transport, cycling and walking as appealing as possible. Low fares or none at all, frequent and reliable services, congestion and parking charges, road space converted to lanes for buses and safe cycling: They all have a role to play.
Transport emissions are Auckland's main climate problem but not our only one. This decade is critical, as the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has starkly warned, and it will be a dangerously foolish mayor who doesn't put all policies and projects through a climate filter.
Many other issues are important, including the future of the port; housing affordability, density and supply; health and other social services. Policies and spending in those areas are largely driven by the central Government, although the council and the mayor still have big roles to play.
A mayor can't do anything on their own. Successful mayors generate support around the council table, among council officials, from Cabinet and the agencies of the central Government and throughout the wider public.
A mayor who lacks the personal skills to do those things will be out of their depth and useless to the city.
Coming soon: How the candidates measure up on those key criteria.