It's the top job in local politics and with fewer than six months until the 2019 council elections, the battle for the Rotorua mayoralty has already started. Five people have so far put up their hands including incumbent Steve Chadwick, and Reynold Macpherson – the man who came closest to toppling her last time. In the first of a series examining the race for mayor and the major issues up for debate, Zizi Sparks delves into the lives of Chadwick and Macpherson to find out who they are, what they do outside work – and why they want to be mayor.

It's 8.30am on a Tuesday when Reynold Macpherson opens the door in a collared, chequered shirt and woolly slippers.

After taking off my shoes I'm welcomed into the kitchen and dining room and offered a coffee at the dining table. Macpherson places it carefully on a coaster.

Despite the time, he's already done some work between 2am and 4am, then gone back to bed briefly before heading to the gym around 6am.


His normal routine includes reading the Rotorua Daily Post, New York Times , and The Guardian and watching Sky News, CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC, and eating breakfast with wife of 50 years, Nicki.

Like most days, later he'll spend some time on social media and reading about new technology, and catch up with members of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association, the organisation he is secretary of.

For Macpherson, 72, his campaign to be elected mayor this year began when his 2016 campaign failed, coming 2863 votes short of mayor Steve Chadwick. He was announced as an association-endorsed mayoral candidate earlier this year.

He's often in the news or letters to the editor columns in the Rotorua Daily Post and has a reputation for focusing on the issues he believes are important.

But after peeling back those layers, I uncover Reynold Macpherson the family man with a love for Rotorua.

Macpherson, wife Nicki and their four children moved to Rotorua in 2002 and he describes the city as ''beautiful'' and its people as ''lovely''.

"Nicki and I have made this place our home, we love this place, we're never going to leave. We'll leave in a box," he tells me.

Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association secretary Reynold Macpherson. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association secretary Reynold Macpherson. Photo / Stephen Parker

He lights up when he talks about his family, smiling and glancing at the pictures on the wall. They are, he says, his greatest achievement.

"I have four fabulous kids. Marrying Nicki was the smartest thing I ever did.

"We've got a close family. Those are our kids on the wall," he says, gesturing to the photo frames of his children on their graduation days.

"They are all high achievers and just wonderful people, extraordinary people."

The couple's children have long moved out. Between them, they've given the Macphersons five grandchildren whose pictures sit perched on a piano in the lounge and line the hallway and full bookcases. He hopes there are more to come.

Macpherson spends time gardening (he's just dug up a record kumara crop) and playing golf, "though I'm not very good at it".

But lately, and perhaps not surprisingly, his time usually spent on hobbies has been consumed by politics. He doesn't have time for much else.

"Politics is my hobby at the moment, apart from family of course," he jokes, before switching tune.

At the mention of politics, he quickly falls into political mode: "It's our way of making decisions as a community and then allocating scarce resources to implement those decisions, so it's a precious process."

Macpherson grew up on a dairy farm in Mangatoetoe, in the Far North near Kaitaia. He was raised by a World War II veteran in what he describes as a typical New Zealand working-class family.

''We were fairly poor so every penny counted''.

After coming second in 2016 he's back for round three.

He trained as a teacher and has also done bachelor degrees in maths and management and a doctorate in large-system reform.

His career led him to Rotorua's Waiariki Institute of Technology, now known as Toi Ohomai, and to serve on ministerial reviews of education systems as well as foundation chancellor and chief executive of Abu Dhabi University.

"I was all set to retire gracefully [at 65] and help bring up grandchildren and so on but then this aberrant form of local government started to intervene more and more in our lives and we started to see the terrible effect it was having on ratepayers, particularly pensioners."

His first attempt at local politics was in 2013 when he campaigned to be a councillor but, with 4593 votes, missed out.

He then unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Steve Chadwick on behalf of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association in 2016.

Following his loss, he filed a Petition for Inquiry to try to get the local body election results scrapped and a new election ordered, but that legal action was settled out of court.

At the time, he said he accepted the result the people had voted for.

I ask him what he thinks of his chief rival and he's happy to admit Chadwick has done "wonderful things".

"She gives people a sense of pride and she has encouraged people to take initiative in many areas and been very welcoming to immigrants from overseas. She does those things brilliantly."

But make no mistake. Macpherson wants to win and is determined to make changes if elected.

"I've been trusted, nominated and endorsed by the membership … Residents and ratepayers need to have far more effective representation."

Steve Chadwick has held the mayoralty since 2013.
Steve Chadwick has held the mayoralty since 2013.

He says he plans to overturn what he calls the "mayor's power bloc" on council but refutes any suggestion an elected group from the RDRR would simply be a replacement power bloc.

He shakes his head profusely and says in his opinion: "They are all so independently minded".

"I believe passionately in the importance of making decisions in a democratic way," he says emphatically.

"The other people elected, they too will have strengths, they too will represent different groups. Their views have got to be heard as well and stitched into the solutions we all come up with. We will be building a consensus on common ground."

Why does he think he would make a good mayor? His answer is because of his background reforming businesses and institutions.

WHY AM I RUNNING FOR MAYOR AND COUNCIL? E nga mana, e nga waka, e nga reo. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa....

Posted by Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers on Saturday, 30 March 2019

He would, he says, run the council in a business-like manner.

"That's what's been missing in the eyes of ratepayers. The council seems to behave in ways that ignore business implications so almost all of our [RDRR] candidates have a background in business.

"They've run their own, risked their own money and they share this agenda of wanting to reform the way council operates."

A look at Facebook comments shows not everyone believes he would be a good mayor. But it doesn't bother him.

"Some people are consumed with poison and there's not much you can do for them but you simply have to forgive them.

#BREAKING: Reynold Macpherson of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association will stand for Rotorua mayor...

Posted by Rotorua Daily Post on Tuesday, 5 March 2019

"I just wish to God I could find a way of helping those people learn the limitations of their current perspectives."

When our conversation comes to a close, I put my shoes back on and leave, Macpherson standing in his driveway waving goodbye with both hands before retreating back inside to get on with his busy day.

It's 9.30am the next day when Steve Chadwick opens her door, wearing bold white glasses and a pounamu necklace hanging over a colourful floral and white blouse.

I'm offered coffee made on her espresso machine as she asks if I've ever been to her home before.

"My house says a lot about me," she tells me.

She's been up since 6am planning her day, but not before making a beeline for said coffee machine. It's always on.

Usually she'd be at work by 7.30am ready for a day of meeting people, committees, opening conferences, and working on investor propositions.

Her fridge contents are sparse as most of her evenings are filled with mayoral engagements with little time for cooking.

Her walls, however, are lined with art and her floors adorned with rugs.

Mayor Steve Chadwick at her Kawaha Point home. Photo / Stephen Parker
Mayor Steve Chadwick at her Kawaha Point home. Photo / Stephen Parker

For her, the campaign to be re-elected started the moment the 2016 election finished.

This year she's endeavouring to be elected for a third term. She's a self-declared workaholic.

"I'm a bit of a workhorse … I love work. I work hard. I had three years in council and then resigned when I became an MP.

"I was asked three times to stand for government. The first two times I thought, 'No, I've got little children' but the third time seemed to be right."

Chadwick was in Parliament for 12 years, three as Rotorua's Labour MP.

She's proud of what she achieved in that time, particularly the Smoke-free Environments (Exemptions) Amendment Bill, part of which now hangs on her office wall beside art and photos of her family, including children Eli, Hana and Rama and late husband John.

"I had diverse portfolios and I learned great skills. I know how Parliament works and that's a great asset to have as a mayor."

She was elected as Rotorua's mayor in 2013 and has held the job since then. She's determined for that not to change.

"I want to be the mayor. I always look at mentoring who could be coming through … but I'm going to be the mayor. I want it. I want to finish the job.

"I love to fight for those local issues that I think are right," she says.

"It's obvious why I'm standing. I enjoy the job. I love it, I love Rotorua, I love the people, I love the culture, I love the environment and I love the size of the place."

Since being elected, Chadwick's been busy. She's proud of the Te Arawa partnership, getting partnership funding for the Lakefront and forest and keeping the council's finances balanced.

Incumbent mayor Steve Chadwick is running again

She doesn't have much spare time but when she does it's spent listening to music or reading. She also loves gardening.

"I've got a little bach at Maketū. I love to go there and garden. That was John's and my space that we created and I like to go over there and garden and work and keep busy."

Chadwick's husband, John, died suddenly in May 2017. At the time, she took just two weeks off work.

It's hard without him, she says, but their three children and eight grandchildren keep her busy.

Memories of him are everywhere at her home, not least of all in the 1948 Austin Devon he bought for her for Christmas the year he died to replace one she had previously owned.

"My most enriching achievement was really that John and I had an incredible relationship … It was a very rich relationship that opened my eyes to another side of life altogether and that was the Māori world," she said.

She too is big on family. "When I see the children and grandchildren that's the greatest investment.

Steve Chadwick with her 1948 Austin Devon. Photo / Stephen Parker
Steve Chadwick with her 1948 Austin Devon. Photo / Stephen Parker

"Whenever I'm making decisions about shaping the place I think I want to make this place one they love and want to come and bring their children here some day."

Chadwick, 70, believes she is a good mayor because she loves the community and has it at heart.

She talks passionately and uses her hands for emphasis.

"I loved it in Government but I prefer shaping a place as a mayor.

"I haven't finished. There's more to do and I'm determined to get that done.

"[I have] a very diverse background, a very people-focused background and I've learned to work with groups of people to get things done," she said.

"Being the mayor is the best job ... We're place shaping and people making."

Chadwick's determined to keep shaping the place she loves. She loves the museum, it tells the city's story and she's eager to see it reopened.

"I love that space and the Government Gardens, I often stroll through the Government Gardens.

"I love the arts village … I do like the ambiance and it's becoming much more funky.

"I like the creative space of my soul, that needs to be refreshed and sustained, and I love the family - my family are very special to me."

When asked what she thinks of Macpherson, Chadwick tells me she hasn't dwelled much on other mayoral candidates.

"I'd rather get on with what we believe in, what the team that is running believes in.

"In any democracy you need to be challenged, you don't always have it right. I'm never afraid of those challenges but I keep working on our time to shine."

For both Chadwick and Macpherson, their families keep them grounded. Both say it's what has made them most proud.

But in the months ahead the battle between them and other candidates will heat up as they fight for the council's top spot.

2019 Local Election key dates.
2019 Local Election key dates.

They are two of a group of five so far, fighting for that one seat at the council table.

Others include 2016 candidates running again; Rangimarie Kingi-Bosma, Frances Louis and John Rakei-Clark.

Chadwick and Macpherson have butted heads before - including the fallout after the last election.

Macpherson launched legal action in 2016 to try to get the local body election results scrapped and a new election ordered. Chadwick called him a "disgruntled loser" when the Office of the Auditor General determined the council acted reasonably when spending $63,000 defending that legal action.

On October 12, the winner will be known and the next chapter in Rotorua's council political scene will begin.

Who's in the team that's behind the two candidates as they fight for the top job? Tomorrow at we take a look at the campaigns Steve Chadwick and Reynold Macpherson are running - and who their key allies are. And what we find are two vastly different approaches.