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Chris Ford: Sideshow Bob Parker bows out - what a surprise!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 Embattled Mayor of Christchurch Sideshow Bob Parker has called it a day. I was genuinely surprised!

I thought that Bob wanted at least to defend his mayoralty one last time during the upcoming local body campaign. I thought that despite all the odds stacked against him that he would mount a fight to the end. I thought he would campaign on being the mayor who rose to the occassion during the biggest natural disaster this country has seen in nearly a century - the Canterbury Earthquakes.

However, electoral reality dawned on Bob big time, probably within the last two weeks. A series of published polls (and perhaps unpublished ones too) all showed Parker heading for one of the largest defeats in New Zealand local government history. Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel, with her throwing her hat into the race, effectively called time on Parker's otherwise chaotic mayoralty.

Realistically speaking, all Christchurch people and New Zealanders everywhere know about the stirling job that Parker did during the 2010 and 2011 earthquake emergencies. He rose to the challenge as any leader faced with such circumstances usually does - with aplomb, calm and confidence.

It must be remembered that Parker was facing defeat before the last local elections in 2010. At that time another MP, Jim Anderton, was challenging him and many people used the old saying that only an earthquake could prevent him from dislodging Parker - a saying that, sadly, proved prophetically true.

Parker's electoral saviour was the hand not of the electorate but of cruel Mother and Father Nature itself.

In this regard, Parker has been compared to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who was himself looking like the electoral equivalent of toast in his own city prior to 9/11. Even though Giuliani wasn't standing for the mayoralty again in 2001, his extramarital affair and other adverse happenings at City Hall had affected his standing with New Yorkers who appeared eager to see the back of him at his planned retirement in early 2002. Accordingly, his post-mayoral political prospects within the Republican Party looked bleak. Then 9/11 came along and, like Parker, Giuliani's handling of the most massive disaster to strike that city in nearly a century earned him local, national and international praise. This disaster driven twist of good fortune prompted Giuliani to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. As with Parker though, Giuliani was found wanting by the Republican electorate and his bigger dreams were dashed.

Nonetheless, Parker, at the time of both the September 4, 2010 and February 22, 2011 earthquakes, came through as an emergency leader in the same way as Giuliani did in the aftermath of 9/11. However, Parker proved unable to handle the everyday governance of a large city both before and (eventually) after the quakes. While Parker had been a relatively successful mayor of Banks Peninsula prior to its amalgmation, Christchurch was and isn't a small, compact community like Banks is. I think this is what tripped Parker up more than anything else. Besides, he has been a really right wing, narrow minded mayor who has kept on an unpopular and, from all reports, seemingly inept chief executive. Even the Nats (whom Parker has professed to personally supporting since the mid-2000s) have grown tired of dealing with him. In fact, the Nats (and particularly Gerry Brownlee) have justified their increasingly dictatorial stance towards the Christchurch rebuild purely on the grounds of Parker's and the Council's inepititude on some issues like building consents.

It now appears that the people of Christchurch will have a new beginning come October 12. Sideshow Bob has decided that he will bow out shortly after that day. It's likely that Lianne Dalziel will, at this stage, be replacing him and providing the certain direction that the rebuild of the South Island's major city now needs.







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