RotoruaMayor
Mayor Steve Chadwick and her main rival, Reynold Macpherson, are squaring up in a battle for the city's top job - the Rotorua mayoralty.

But they can't do it alone. They need people to help them plan, flesh out their strategy and carry out basic jobs such as handing out flyers.

In the second part of a series on the race for Rotorua's mayoralty, Zizi Sparks takes a look at the camps of the two contenders and discovers who's in their inner-circles, why they're backing their leader and how they're running their campaigns.

What she discovers are two very different approaches.

Leith Comer sits in an arm-chair in the corner of Steve Chadwick's lounge watching me closely.

I am interviewing the mayor about her campaign and who her close advisors are as part of a series examining the race for the mayoralty and the issues they are debating.

Comer is a long-time friend of Chadwick's, and plays perhaps the most pivotal role in her quest to be re-elected mayor. He is her right-hand man and campaign manager.

His role, along with others in the campaign team, is one of support.

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It's putting up posters, designing and publishing pamphlets, choosing which photo should be on her election billboard. It's the practical things but also moral support.

Moral support is important. Politics, Comer says, can be lonely.

Leith Comer, Steve Chadwick's campaign manager in her bid for mayor. Photo / Stephen Parker
Leith Comer, Steve Chadwick's campaign manager in her bid for mayor. Photo / Stephen Parker

"The good thing about local government is it's not tribal. It's not about parties or policy manifests, it's about people ... There are no parties so people like Steve rely on people like myself."

Comer comes with an impressive CV.

He was chairman of Lakeland Health (now Lakes District Health Board) from 1992 to 1997, where he met Chadwick.

"She was a rather active senior member of staff ... I had known [her husband] John in other walks of life."

Comer went on to be chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, from 2001 to 2013 and also helped establish the Rotorua District Council Te Arawa Standing committee.

Comer splits his career into three: "The first in the army, the second as a senior public servant, and now I'm a jack of all things."

Born in Matatā, Comer moved back to Rotorua six years ago with his wife. Between them they have eight children, though none live at home, giving Comer time for one of his passions - golf.

So why is he standing beside Chadwick? Because he believes she is authentic.

"What we see in Steve is an authentic person who really has the people at heart.

"Steve will stand on her record and her ability to connect with people. This isn't an election campaign against someone, it's an election campaign for Steve to be the mayor."

Comer says the campaign really started last October when a group, he can't quite remember who, went to see Steve to talk about the need for her to stand again.

"There was concern whether or not she had the will and was emotionally ready to continue, given John had died [in 2017]. There was a lot happening in her life.

"I don't know if we went for a definitive answer, more just to say if she wanted to run, she had our support."


Others in her camp include businesspeople Brett Marvelly, Bruce Thomasen, Kraig Steiner and Merehini Mead, long-time friend Gay Kingi and Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust trustee Tina Ngatai.

Leith Comer - Steve Chadwick's campaign manager

"Merehini is a businesswoman with a good head for figures," Comer says.

"She's hugely important in all this. There's not a lot of money but we have to make sure it's accounted for and we put in proper returns."

At the moment the group meets monthly, mostly at Chadwick's home, but they'll ramp up the frequency as the election approaches.

It's a formal affair in one sense as minutes are taken and they keep track of who's doing what and what's said.

But not so formal in other senses.

"I'm not sure there's been a meeting yet we have not finished with a glass of wine," Comer quips, flashing his infectious smile.

He genuinely believes Chadwick is the best person for the job.

"We're not against anybody, we are for Steve. We believe she has the right qualities to lead the place."

Leith Comer - Steve Chadwick's campaign manager

It didn't take Chadwick long to decide to run again and people had already told her they were glad she was, she says, before revealing a surprising fact.

"I don't bring my children into this much. They didn't really want me to stand again because they wanted to see me get a life.

Mayor Steve Chadwick has held office since 2013. Photo / File
Mayor Steve Chadwick has held office since 2013. Photo / File

"Now that I am standing they say 'we knew we couldn't stop you'. They've lived with that. I've been a working mother all their lives."

Chadwick wants to be mayor again to finish the big projects she started. She says she is passionate about the city.

"I do work hard. I'm a positive person I don't work on the negative side of any equation.

"I look for ways we can do things find the right links and the right people to make it happen and then we push. I have a good team and local body politics is about getting those that believe in the place and what we're doing."

To finance the campaign, Chadwick is selling prints of her "Our time to shine" slogan designed by her brother Dick Frizzell to help fund the campaign.

For now the campaign group's focus is on making sure Chadwick can continue doing her job without distractions.

"If we have a strategy it's about promoting the person and what she stands for," says Comer.

For Reynold Macpherson and the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers, Macpherson's home is campaign central.

And he is his own campaign manager.

Reynold Macpherson is running for mayor. Photo / Stephen Parker
Reynold Macpherson is running for mayor. Photo / Stephen Parker

Every week Macpherson and the group's five councillor-hopefuls meet between the bookcases and family photos at his house to work on their campaign over tea and coffee.

He's won't reveal their campaign and media strategy but says at the meetings they "use democratic debate to find the common ground between independent-minded members, issue by issue".

The association's wider committee and members meet quarterly.

While Chadwick has a slogan - Our Time to Shine - Macpherson says the RDRR team has many slogans, broken down by issue.

For rates it's, "Affordable rates". On infrastructure it's, "Maintenance matters". On lakes water quality it's, "Lakes a taonga not a toilet". The list goes on.

When asked who his right-hand man or woman is, Macpherson says he doesn't have one.

"The other endorsed candidates each have specialist strengths so leadership tends to move depending on the issue, or with campaign responsibilities, such as co-ordinating teams of volunteers."

His wife, he says, keeps out of the politics, and has plenty more to get on with between volunteer roles and club involvement such as with Mahjong and the Salvation Army.

The campaign is a simple operation, he says.

"We do not employ election consultants. We do not employ a campaign team. We do it ourselves.

"We've got a commitment from large groups of volunteers to do flyer drops. Ours is a grassroots campaign.

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

He says the largest donation they have received is $100, but multiple small donations add up.

"These are people setting parts of their disposable income aside to help us with the campaign."

The Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association is calling for anonymous donations by bank deposit. The value of this is donors cannot influence the group because the group does not know who they are.

Around the city, about 100 association members have already started figuring out where to put election hoardings once they can go up on July 12.

Some have put their hand up to distribute campaign flyers while others are designing materials, writing letters and posting on Facebook.

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

Despite not succeeding in 2016, Macpherson says the association will run a similar campaign this year.

"Our block of candidates in the 2016 election all got within [about] 1000 votes of being elected. It was a massive swing against incumbents.

"Given the near success we had last time many of the successful tactics are going to continue. One obvious one is the use of Facebook. Letters to the editor have proved extremely effective."

Asked to expand on his successful tactics, Macpherson tells me he has no further comment.

The association has endorsed a handful of councillor-hopefuls including incumbents Raj Kumar and Peter Bentley, and fresh faces Peter Jones, Conan O'Brien and Linda Rowbotham.

Kumar, in his first term on the council, has said he would make an effort to be the voice of ethnic groups, if re-elected.

As a retiree, Bentley has time to give back to the city.

Jones has a background in finance including banking, investment, and share broking while Rowbotham has more than 10 years' experience in financial management.

Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers candidates Peter Jones (left) Linda Rowbotham, Conan O'Brien, Peter Bentley, Reynold Macpherson and Raj Kumar. Photo / Supplied
Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers candidates Peter Jones (left) Linda Rowbotham, Conan O'Brien, Peter Bentley, Reynold Macpherson and Raj Kumar. Photo / Supplied

O'Brien previously said he joined the association last year "because of my concerns about the direction that the current council was moving our community".

Between now and the election they'll be down at Kuirau Park markets every Saturday morning talking to those passing by their Bring and Buy Stall.

Kumar, elected as a councillor after representing the association in the 2016 election, says the association introduced him to politics so he has given it his loyalty.

"I'm not there to be a roadblock but there needs to be robust discussion being in opposition gives you a good opportunity to lead that."

Rotorua Lakes councillor Raj Kumar is running on behalf of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers again. Photo / File
Rotorua Lakes councillor Raj Kumar is running on behalf of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers again. Photo / File

Kumar says the association is all about representing diverse groups and he believes Macpherson is the right person for the top job.

"Reynold is very organised. He has a very good system of operation. He is not draconian, he is very accurate.

"We need someone to tidy things up and I think he's the person for the job ... Sometimes he sounds too academic or negative but he's really not."

Macpherson believes some incumbent councillors are scared of losing their roles.

"That's understandable because many of them are going to lose their places on council."

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

Should we be spending money on big projects such as the Lakefront? Or should we be focussing on rates and debt? Tomorrow at rotoruadailypost.co.nz we examine the issues Chadwick and Macpherson will be campaigning on.