John Tamihere's mayoral campaign represents the first opportunity for the centre-right to take control of our Queen City. It could, if the National Party stalwarts play it right, be the Super City's first departure from Len Brown's high-rates, high-debt, and low-transparency approach to governance, which Phil Goff has continued.
The first, but more risky, path to success is to get behind Tamihere, hoping he delivers on tackling the problem of council debt worth more than $20,900 for every Auckland household, and 2250 staff now on salaries of more than $100,000.
This appears to be Tamihere's pitch to voters: a former Labour politician who can pull together pedigree from across the political divide to form a united ticket for Auckland — his core campaign team includes former labour union leader Matt McCarten on the left, and former National Party president Michelle Boag on the right.
Similarly, Tamihere's choice for deputy mayor, former National Party minister, once-Auckland Mayor and sitting councillor Christine Fletcher, is a smart move. Without an official National Party-backed candidate, the party could give voters in the leafy inner and Eastern suburbs the nod to back the Tamihere-Fletcher ticket.
Tamihere's team is engaging with the local government researchers at the Taxpayers' Union to identify potential savings at the council.
But punch-drunk from Brown and Goff's broken promises on rates, ratepayers may find it difficult to accept the word of yet another Labour Party politician running for mayor and selling the same snake oil. Nevertheless, Tamihere's aggressive waste-cutting and house-cleaning rhetoric suggests he's aiming squarely for the anti-Goff vote.
It was Phil Goff who on the campaign hustings promised 3 to 6 per cent in council efficiencies per year. His delivery of less than 1 per cent efficiencies has instead seen his 2.5 per cent rates "cap" ignored, with new taxes on hotels, Airbnbs, and commuting families at the fuel pump. Even the council's political apparatchiks are abandoning Goff, having seen his poll numbers, understood to now be nearly as bad as Len Brown's became.
Having sought and received the Labour Party's formal endorsement, at this stage it still appears Goff will make a run. But with Tamihere drawing support from his home turf out West, and to a lesser degree South, the left's vote will be split in its usual strongholds. For the first time since the formation of the Super City all a centre-right candidate needs do is dominate the East and North of the Harbour Bridge — areas with typically higher turnouts for local elections. That could be enough to win. So who could do it?
National's Tamaki Electorate MP Simon O'Connor floated the idea of running in November but has since backpedalled. Meanwhile, John Palino is taking a third tilt at the mayoralty, with a focus on tackling traffic congestion. Previous runs suggest he'd be best to fold his tent.
Judith Collins was rumoured to be considering a tilt but safe money would be on her sticking to Wellington to have another go at a bigger prize.
In the 2016 elections, Phil Goff came out on top with 47 per cent of the vote, Vic Crone trailed at 28 per cent, Chloe Swarbrick at 7 per cent, John Palino at 6 per cent, Mark Thomas and the late Penny Bright at around 2 per cent, plus a further 13 candidates who failed to break single digits.
Crone's best results came from Orakei and wards north of the Harbour Bridge. Goff won everywhere else.
In other words, if Tamihere splits Goff's vote, and a centre-right candidate can beat Crone's lacklustre campaign effort, they would be in with a good shot.
Jordan Williams is executive director of the NZ Taxpayers' Union and in 2015 founded the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance.