Simon Collins continues his reports on how 300 Aucklanders view the Super City election that is now under way.
Whoever becomes the first Super City mayor next month will inherit a "hospital pass" that will ultimately bring him down.
That's how Orakei project manager Dave Bensley sees John Banks' and Len Brown's cautious dance around the football field that has failed to arouse public excitement.
"There are no top economic leaders putting their hands up; why would they? You're going to inherit this hospital pass," said Mr Bensley, 42.
"My gut feel is that this is going to be a debacle for two or three years. I think in three years' time we'll see more real quality coming out of the woodwork."
The contest is the nearest thing to a presidential election that we have had in New Zealand, where our national politics work by voting for parties which then choose our leaders.
Like an American President, the directly elected mayor of the Super City will have his own staff and will "lead the development of council plans, policies and budgets for consideration by the [council]".
He will appoint the deputy mayor and the chairs of all committees.
This survey has found that 250 out of 300 Aucklanders interviewed in streets, markets and at public events have clear views on what the new mayor and council should make their top priorities, even before being shown a list of 20 possibilities.
Fixing the traffic easily topped the open-ended question with 114 mentions.
Exactly 200 of the 300 people could also name at least one mayoral candidate. Mr Banks (174 mentions) and Mr Brown (172) were well ahead of North Shore mayor Andrew Williams (48), property manager Colin Craig (17) and actor Simon Prast (14).
Once shown the list of all 23 candidates, 184 people (61 per cent) were ready to vote for one. Mr Brown (30 per cent) led Mr Banks (24 per cent), with 7 per cent for all others, but the survey was inadvertently weighted in Mr Brown's favour because Manukau, Papakura and Franklin's combined share of the sample (36 per cent) was 4 points higher than their share of the population (32 per cent).
Auckland City's share of the sample (33 per cent) was 2 points above its census share.
Only 20 per cent of the sample came from the North Shore and Rodney, and 11 per cent from Waitakere, both 3 points below their population shares.
The survey found that, at least in their voting patterns, Aucklanders are not yet one city.
The three southern districts of Manukau, Papakura and Franklin, in this sample, are all voting heavily for their local champion, Mr Brown.
"He's Manukau, he's close, I think he listens to the people," said Pukekohe firefighter Jason Montgomery, 38.
"He's the best of a poor bunch," said Howick-based livestock movement control officer Trefor Jones.
"I live in Manukau - not that I like what he's doing, but he's a bit of a fairer person than Banks."
Pacific and especially Maori voters lined up almost exclusively for Mr Brown.
"He stands up for brown people even though he isn't one," said Otara mechanical engineer Epine Faafaga, 34.
Papakura bus driver Nora Leach, 58, said Mr Brown "talks to you, not down at you".
"He gets on your level, he doesn't put himself higher," she said.
"I caught a plane with John Banks once and he was arrogant.
"I don't know whether he felt intimidated because we were all Maori women going to a conference, but I thought he was rude, he just looked us up and down."
In contrast, Rodney, North Shore and the old Auckland City, and many Asian voters, all back Mr Banks. He is also marginally ahead in Waitakere and among Europeans.
Russian-born Meadowbank mother Maria Chueva, 34, said: "He's closer to people in this area, he understands their needs."
Mark Hill-Rennie, 50, a bank district manager living on the North Shore, said: "He's more likely in terms of the economy to drive that growth for business, with his connections into the business community."
Mr Banks appeals to Europeans partly for the same reasons that Polynesians prefer Mr Brown.
Brett, a 39-year-old Papakura car dealer, chose Mr Banks "for one single policy - Len Brown said he would have Maori seats [on the new council]. I don't think any one ethnicity should be represented particularly on their ethnicity."
Te Atatu teacher Geoff Smith, 56, said: "I see him as a stronger political fellow than Len, who I see as a softer, more malleable personality who will be more easily manipulated by the city. I wouldn't choose John as Mr Personality, but I think he's the man for the job."
Other voters are struggling to choose. "It's a shame they can't share it," said Epsom tutor Louise Biddick, 45.
And Avondale's Lisa Ropati, 39, who manages an employment agency, said: "My social justice side tells me to go for Len Brown, my business-management/handling-stress side tells me to go for John Banks. I probably won't vote - I'll avoid it."
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The findings were similar to those of a survey commissioned by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Only 27 per cent thought their new city would make faster progress as a result of the reform, 25 per cent said it would make slower progress, while 25 per cent said no faster or slower and 22 per cent didn't know.
The survey of 634 people was conducted between August 24 and September 14 and had a margin of error of 3.9 per cent.
SURVEY INDICATES BIG VOTER TURNOUT LIKELY FOR ELECTIONS
Three-quarters of the Herald's sample of Aucklanders say they will vote in the Super City election.
Eighty per cent of women and 70 per cent of men in the sample said they would vote - about twice the average of 38 per cent who voted across the region's eight councils at the last elections in 2007.
The question about whether they would vote was the last one asked in the interview, and this clearly influenced the replies.
"I will vote now that I've met you," said Manurewa logistics worker Tamati Ihaka, 31.
Political scientist Graham Bush, author of two histories of Auckland City Council, said turnout could rise this year for several reasons.
Turnout in Auckland City doubled from 30 per cent to 60 per cent the last time local government was restructured in 1989, which coincided with the advent of postal voting.
It slipped back again to 43 per cent by 2001, but jumped to 49 per cent when Dick Hubbard's challenge to incumbent John Banks created a close race in 2004. The Hubbard/Banks re-run in 2007, after public disillusionment with Mr Hubbard's leadership, saw turnout slide again to 40 per cent.
"A serious mayoral contest is likely to increase turnout, other things being equal, by anything up to 10 per cent," Dr Bush said.
"This campaign, at least the mayoral campaign, has been more prolonged and more intense than anything that has ever gone in Auckland before. So if there is any local body occasion that is going to produce a turnout that even gets close to the national election turnouts, it's going to be this election."
Dr Bush said turnout might be particularly high in the old Manukau and Auckland City areas whose sitting mayors are the two main candidates to lead the new Super City.
In the Herald sample, 79 per cent of voters in Manukau, Papakura and Franklin said they planned to vote, as did 77 per cent in Auckland City, but only 63 per cent in Rodney and North Shore, whose sitting mayor is given no chance of winning. In Waitakere the intended vote was 76 per cent.
Unsurprisingly, the sample found a lower intended turnout among voters under 30 (63 per cent) than among those aged 30 to 49 (80 per cent) or 50-plus (77 per cent). Ratepayers were slightly more likely to plan to vote (78 per cent) than non-ratepayers (72 per cent). The intended turnout was 75 to 79 per cent for European, Maori and Pacific voters and 65 per cent for Asians.
- additional reporting: NZPA