In the lead-up to this year's local body elections, the race for the mayor's seat of Western Bay of Plenty comes down to three very different contenders. Reporter Kiri Gillespie sits down with seasoned councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, the only woman in the running to lead the district, and asks why she thinks she should be mayor, what change she will bring, and what makes her tick.
Margaret Murray-Benge is used to fighting for things.
The seasoned Western Bay of Plenty councillor has successfully fought for a pedestrian footpath at McLaren Falls, safety improvements at the intersection of State Highway 29 and McLaren Falls Rd - and is now fighting for a chance to represent the Western Bay of Plenty again.
Murray-Benge is running for a councillor seat, as well as that of mayor. If she is successful, this will be her sixth term as a Western Bay elected member.
Over a coffee, at her Bethlehem home, she states: "I've got as much experience as anyone could ever wish to have. Local government is the passion of my life."
Murray-Benge, widowed for seven years, started in Canterbury politics more than 40 years ago, spurred on from her role, at the time, as president of her local tennis club.
As the former teacher talks to me, she often refers to her time as chairwoman on the Waimari District Council in the 1970s before moving onto the then Christchurch United Council as the first female chairwoman elected there.
Murray-Benge later moved to the Western Bay, marrying Thomas "Dougie" Benge and settling at Ngamuawahine.
After forming a local residents group and feeling the then council was "walking over" ratepayers, Murray-Benge ran for local council in 2004, and won.
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"When I first started in local government in 1977 they said it was always 'Murray in a hurry' and I was 'too young', so I'm not going to have anyone say I'm too old now."
When I ask how old she is, the grandmother and mother responds: "Timeless".
Murray-Benge later refers to having several "timeless" birthday parties at the Bethlehem retirement village where she now lives.
Murray-Benge prides herself on her commitment to the community and a big part of this is equality, she says.
"The Treaty of Waitangi made me equal to anyone I meet and they are equal to me. Working in a man's world, as I have for so many years, you have to treat them as your equal.
"Regarding Māori ward issues, how on earth can I, as a woman, say it's okay for Māori to separate themselves out when the fact is how you work together is you don't want to go down separate paths."
Murray-Benge had been in a relationship with former Act Party and National Party leader Don Brash. However, the pair were now "just good friends", she says.
"This is my campaign, nobody else's."
If successful, Murray-Benge says the first thing she would do as mayor is enlist former Act Party member, Labour cabinet minister, Land Transport Forum chief executive and current New Zealand Taxpayers' Union director Ken Shirley as chairman of the council's Audit and Risk Committee.
When asked why, she said it was good practice to keep tabs on finances and again referred to her time at Waimari District Council.
"That gives me the strength to do what I do today, those leadership roles I had. I was known as a 'no-nonsense' chairman who got things done. And that's continued."
The keen tennis fan says it has been tough lately with people bullying her on the street - she believes because she's a woman.
But with two daughters overseas and a son in the South Island, her friends helped support her and remind her why she is running. It was essential to fight for the community no matter how big, or small an issue was, she said.
"If people have a problem, you can't sit back and not do anything.
"Working with local people, it's just part of me. I'm not such a great cook, but I've got the knowledge of how to make it happen."
Murray-Benge doesn't get personal for long. Almost every question about what makes her tick soon turns back to politics.
"Local Government has been my life."
Murray-Benge moved from her Kaimai Range home to a retirement village in Bethlehem about six years ago. Living in Tauranga suited her better for travelling to Te Puna or Ōmokoroa.
She says it would be "stupid" to ignore 15 years' experience in the Western Bay just because she moved from the Western Bay district to Tauranga.
There are, she believes, serious issues in the Western Bay that need resolving and she is campaigning to "ensure equality", "fix our roads", and "control our rates".
She would do some of this by "lobbying hard" for the Katikati bypass and the Tauranga Northern Link. She is also keen to ensure all children had access to sports and sporting facilities.
When it comes to her biggest regret over the past three years, she says it was not running for the mayoralty in 2016.
Murray-Benge says she has the experience and community connections to make real change.
• Murray-Benge is contending the mayoralty alongside current mayor Garry Webber and newcomer Stephen Fawcett.