The deputy mayor shoved a form into the hands of a young Ngāti Rangiwewehi tāne.

Nominations for the 1977 Rotorua City Council elections were closing in an hour.

Trevor Maxwell was "only 29 or something".

He knew to "hide the dogs" when the council ranger was in the village and he knew the grader that went up and down the road said "Rotorua City Council" on it, and that was it when it came to local government.

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But Maxwell could not debate with Peter Tapsell, a prominent politician who would go on to be knighted and the first Māori Speaker of the House.

One of Trevor Maxwell's early campaign advertisements in Rotorua. Photo/Supplied
One of Trevor Maxwell's early campaign advertisements in Rotorua. Photo/Supplied

Maxwell was so embarrassed during the elections he left town.

"My relations, I thought they might say, 'Who does he think he is?'."

It did not get any easier when Maxwell was voted in.

Fluoridation was one of the first issues on the table, something Maxwell has continually opposed in his career.

One of Trevor Maxwell's campaign advertisements in the 1990s in Rotorua. Photo/Supplied
One of Trevor Maxwell's campaign advertisements in the 1990s in Rotorua. Photo/Supplied

"People rang through the night, saying 'don't do this, do this, don't put that in the water' and I thought, 'what have I got myself into?'"

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Then in 1981, the Springbok tour divided councillors, and Maxwell's Rotorua relative Hika Reid was an All Black.

Maxwell laughs when asked how he handled those tricky situations.

"I do tend to stop and have a brief karakia. I fall back on that. You can only do what you think is right."

He has got it right with the public, again and again, resulting in 41 years as a Rotorua district councillor.

This week Maxwell received the Minister of Local Government Excellence Award for Outstanding Contribution to Local Government; an award of great mana, according to mayor Steve Chadwick.

She described her colleague as a "very, very foxy politician".

Trevor Maxwell and his award for 41 years of service to Rotorua Lakes Council. Photo / Stephen Parker
Trevor Maxwell and his award for 41 years of service to Rotorua Lakes Council. Photo / Stephen Parker

Chadwick said Maxwell "does not make enemies".

Instead he maintains the "utmost respect", even for those with different views.

"If you have a fight, he comes quickly up to you after to say 'How did that happen?' So you just cannot dislike the man."

She said "every hapū and every paepae" in Rotorua knew Maxwell, but his connections spread further thanks to his lifelong kapa haka and local government events.

"Internationally I have travelled with him to China, Korea, Japan and he is just known by key people in so many places," Chadwick said.

Maxwell and late wife Atareta led Ngāti Rangiwewehi to two national kapa haka titles, all over the world for performances and tours.

Maxwell was deputy mayor from 2002 to 2013.

He stood for mayor in 2004 after his good friend Grahame Hall stepped down.

He was second to Kevin Winters by just 184 votes, but he was "really pleased" with the support.

"You win some, you lose some," he said.

He listed the Te Arawa Partnership, improving lake water quality, the building of the Energy Events Centre and the renaming of the Sir Howard Morrison Centre as decisions he was most proud to have been involved in.

He also spoke highly of "Stevie" Chadwick.

"She was the most hated woman in New Zealand when she led the anti-smoking bill. Helen Clark gave her that job. Now, even smokers have changed their views."

Maxwell does not speak as highly of Dr Reynold Macpherson, failed mayoral candidate and secretary of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers group.

"Reynold who?" Maxwell joked.

"Never in my time in council have I come across that before. They always seem to oppose everything that the council does."

Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said Maxwell had "played a very difficult and challenging role" balancing culture and mainstream ideas.

"You can either be combative or conciliatory and he has been in the conciliatory camp, exactly where he needed to be.

"Not many people survive 41 years of politics, you have got to have resilience and courage."

According to fellow kaumātua and Rotorua Lakes Council kaitiaki Māori Monty Morrison said Maxwell's legacy would be his advocacy work.

"His 'together is better' approach is something we can all learn to adopt. I salute Trevor for the mana he has brought to Te Arawa and Rotorua."

Maxwell said it was "highly likely" he would stand again next year.

"My health is good, I feel well, I thoroughly enjoy what I do.

"I never take anything for granted though. You have to leave it to the people and they will decide."