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Waitemata and Gulf ward is the shop window for the Super City. It's the capital of the region and where much of the action will be.

It's the city's transport spine, economic, educational and cultural hub and has its own council-controlled organisation for the waterfront.

It's also the butt of jokes when politicians come to blows on a waterfront stadium and a party for the Rugby World Cup.

Given the prominence of the single-member ward, it's no surprise that several big names are contesting the prized battleground.

There's Mike Lee, the indefatigable chairman of the Auckland Regional Council; Alex Swney, the exuberant voice behind Heart of the City; Tenby Powell, a cocksure businessman; and Rob Thomas, an energetic 20-something.

If none of the above appeal, there's Craig Thomas, who says he's a "Jedi", and yacht broker Janis Marler.

The way things are shaping up appear to favour Mr Lee, who is benefiting from ructions plaguing Citizens & Ratepayers, the right-leaning ticket making a real hash of the elections.

This is exemplified in Waitemata and Gulf, where the C&R selected Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett, held off finding a replacement after he developed cancer and pulled out, burned C&R loyalist Greg Moyle who badly wanted the nomination, and played Mr Swney off against Mr Powell.

The result has left a sour taste, not least between Mr Swney and Mr Powell, a Rich Lister married to the similarly successful and well-known entrepreneur Sharon Hunter who brazenly announced in July that he was considering challenging John Banks for the mayoralty.

He says Mr Swney's last-minute deal with C&R reeks of political desperation, but the reality is both men wanted the endorsement to prevent C&R finding a new candidate, which would only have split the right vote three ways.

The problems on the centre-right are music to Mr Lee, who is standing with the backing of the left-leaning City Vision ticket in what has traditionally been a largely liberal-minded pocket of Auckland. He has a big head-start on Waiheke Island, where he has lived on and off since 1972.

But Mr Lee is taking nothing for granted and wide awake to what happened two years ago when National's Nikki Kaye beat long-standing Labour MP Judith Tizard in Auckland Central.

Mr Lee regards his two terms as ARC chairman as a trump card.

He has been at the forefront of many regional issues - rail electrification and other transport projects, regional parks and the waterfront.

He wants to continue this work and see projects such as a smart card for public transport and the Tank Farm development through to fruition.

A big point of difference between Mr Lee and Mr Swney is the wider role of the waterfront. The former seafarer says he gets the impression that Mr Swney does not want the ports company there, while Mr Swney accuses Mr Lee of being an apologist for the port company's expansion plans by reclaiming more of the harbour and supporting the removal of century-old sheds on Queens Wharf to build a cruise ship terminal.

Mr Lee did push for the removal of the sheds, but changed his mind after talks with the Historic Places Trust and heritage advocates.

Mr Swney, who has unsuccessfully stood for the Auckland City mayoralty (2007), the Auckland City Council, the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust and for Act in Tamaki in 1996, believes the Waitemata and Gulf ward is his "best chance" of being elected to public office.

"It's a ward made for me. I live here and I work here," says the Heart of the City leader for the past 12 years. He has been a staunch campaigner for the waterfront.

Mr Powell has a big-picture vision of turning Auckland into one of the world's greatest cities.

The dark horse in the contest is Rob Thomas, the 29-year-old former Auckland City youth council chairman who has spent the past four months door-knocking thousands of homes on a platform of zero sewage in the Hauraki Gulf, improved public transport and empowering local communities.

If anyone will take votes off Mr Lee, it is Mr Thomas. But that's not good enough. He's out to win.

Voters spoiled for choice on board that faces a big job

Queen St divides the Waitemata Local Board between the left-leaning suburbs of the western bays and the right-leaning Parnell and Newmarket.

Both are liberal-minded pockets, which has created a good contest between the City Vision and Citizens & Ratepayers tickets.

Voters are spoiled for choice with 23 candidates seeking seven seats on what will be a grunty local board that will have its work cut out, dealing with everything from the waterfront, heritage matters and a herd of elephants for Auckland Zoo.

It will pay to do some homework on the candidates. City Vision and C&R have put forward full tickets. Independents worth a look are heritage campaigner Allan Matson, who has worked tirelessly to save condemned buildings, and Rob Thomas, the former Auckland City youth council chairman, who wants to stop sewage flowing into the Hauraki Gulf.

For the five-member Waiheke Local Board, Herb Romaniuk is the only community board member standing for re-election. Gulf Islands city councillor Denise Roche and the councillor she unseated in 2007, Faye Storer, are among the 17 candidates.

On Great Barrier Island, all five community board members are among 11 candidates seeking five seats for the island's local board.


The ward and its people
Population
Waitemata: 70,000

Waiheke: 8420

Great Barrier: 820

Median Household income: $66,933

Ethnicity: European 66.8 per cent, Asian 18.3 per cent, Maori 7.2 per cent, Pacific 6.5 per cent, Middle East/Latin American/African 1.7 per cent.

Council candidates
Waitemata & Gulf:
* Mike Lee, independent (City Vision endorsed).

* Janis Marler, independent.

* Tenby Powell, independent.

* Alex Swney, independent (C&R endorsed).

* Craig Thomas, independent.

* Rob Thomas, independent.


The series
Yesterday: Maungakiekie-Tamaki.

Today: Waitemata and Gulf.

Tomorrow: North Shore.