For a position that’s arguably the best political job in New Zealand next to Prime Minister (and maybe even better), the race for Mayor of the newly-merged Auckland has been ridiculous and absurd.
The two leading contenders are Auckland City Mayor John Banks, a former National Party cabinet minister, and Manukau City Mayor Len Brown, associated with the Labour Party. The right-leaning New Zealand Herald has always favoured National Party candidates, and has been pretty transparent in its support for Banks and antipathy toward Brown.
However, one candidate didn’t need a newspaper to go after him: He turned out to be his own worst enemy. Simon Prast, who recently entered the race as an alternative to Banks and Brown, destroyed his candidacy this past weekend by admitting he’d used “P” (methamphetamine), was cavalier about it and called for the drug to be decriminalised. The drug is one of the greatest scourges facing New Zealand, so his suggesting it’s no worse than alcohol or tobacco will guarantee his campaign is over.
On Friday, the Herald ran an absurd story declaring that 17 out of 95 “business leaders” who the Herald said were “mostly Auckland chief executives” (“mostly”?), were not satisfied with either Banks or Brown and wanted one of their own the enter the race. Of course they do—business elites always want one of their own in charge to keep the serfs in line. That doesn’t mean that what they think matters.
As if on cue, “Rich Lister” Tenby Powell entered the race. I’m not quite sure why being very rich and having a “glamorous” wife qualifies one to be Mayor of the new Auckland, but it makes sense to him—and his sycophants at the Herald.
In the most embarrassingly gushing drivel I’ve seen in the Herald, the paper’s “gossip queen Rachel Glucina” oozed, “There's no denying Powell and Hunter would certainly add some much-needed sizzle to the race to be Supercity mayor.” And why? Because his wife is “glamorous” and he’s a “rich-lister”, apparently. She goes on to list approvingly his supposed qualifications before adding one last item, about a 37-year-old National Party member who may run for the new Auckland Council—only she doesn’t bother to tell readers what his affiliation is. Perhaps it’s not “glamorous” enough, or maybe right-leaning candidates are the only ones she thinks are “glamorous”.
So, we have two lacklustre campaign leaders who will spend big money on their campaigns, a drug-defending actor self-destructing, a far-right businessman with ties to religious extremists, and a “rich lister” with no obvious qualifications apart from being rich and having a “glamorous” wife. Wait, there’s one more: Andrew Williams, Mayor of North Shore City, who’s most famous for emailing and texting people in the middle of the night and peeing on a tree after a night out. There are apparently a couple more candidates, but I have no idea who they are.
This situation is both ridiculous and absurd: Auckland needs a strong leader for all the people of the new city, and not just a narrow segment. The new mayor should be someone who brings the diverse parts of the city together and helps form an identity and heart for it. The new mayor must have vision and the energy to make it happen. In sum, Auckland deserves far better than the choices we have so far. I’m not optimistic we’ll get them.