This past week has seen the opening of local body election nominations around the country. And this year's local body elections promise to be more interesting than usual.
The most watched local body race in the country will be Auckland's. With the advent of the new super city, the mayoral race is already beginning to look crowded. So far the two front runners, current Auckland Mayor John Banks and Manukau Mayor Len Brown, don't have the stage to themselves. Others to have joined the race recently include former Gloss actor Simon Prast, North Shore Mayor (and tree peeing champ) Andrew Williams, left-wing campaigner Penny Bright (who would be the candidate I would opt for if I had a vote there), and comedian Ewen Gilmour. Attracted by the allure of the most powerful mayoral office and biggest local authority salary ($220,000 approximately) in the country, it's no wonder that a good number of A class celebrities and hangers on are wanting to try their luck - and that's just for the mayoralty!. On the council side of things, big names like Mrs Big Earrings herself Christine Rankin is seeking a seat on Auckland's North Shore. But it's still a two-horse race between Banks and Brown whom the business class have been prepared to slag off at every opportunity as not having any 'vision'. In other words, it means that neither Banks or Brown is completely prepared to do the business community's bidding in terms of bringing their rates bill down and privatising council assets. Recently, Auckland businessman Tenby Powell stated that he would put his name forward but has now said that he won't as he appears to be satisfied that Banks will continue to deliver the goods for big business. At this stage, it will be a close fought contest but I sadly expect that Banks (whose support has significantly nosedived) will gain just enough votes to see off Brown in the crowded field.
In Wellington, Mayor Kerry Prendergast (like Banks another National sympathiser) is seeking re-election. I don't know what is happening in Wellington but Alliance Party member and left-wing businessman Jack Yan is Prendergast's strongest challenger. I am predicting that Yan (who is building up a reasonably good profile) should do well to come a good second but Prendergast is my tip to be re-elected to the mayoralty.
In Christchurch, it's a different can of worms with Sideshow Bob Parker up against Jim Anderton. Now, as many regular readers of this blog will know, I have not been a fan of Anderton's for quite some time, not since he chose to shit on the Alliance Party (an act for which he was expelled from the movement he founded). But I know that some current Alliance Party members (purely as individuals and not as a group) are even going to support him as the 'lesser of two evils' candidate. If anything this is a reflection of how rightward leaning Parker's mayoralty has been. One of the actions that appalled many Cantabrians, amongst other things, was Parker's backing for council property deals with millionaire businessman and libertarian David Henderson. Despite revelations that Anderton enjoyed a taxpayer funded jaunt to Europe in his last year as a cabinet minister, many Christchurch voters still appear ready to elect Anderton come October.
Down here in Dunedin, I have a better grasp of the issues. This year Dunedinites are in for the most interesting local body race in ages. The council's agreement to spend mega millions on a new stadium and other un-necessary infrastructure (like a new town hall extension), excessive credit card spending by council staff on coffees in local cafes (amongst other things - eat your heart out, literally, Auckland!) and ill conceived parking changes have caused consternation in the local community. This year's mayoral race should be very interesting as incumbent Mayor Peter Chin faces off against councillor and TV personality Dave Cull. Given the bad three years experienced by the local council here, I do expect that some long standing councillors may lose their seats as the city becomes one super ward. I am picking up a 'kick the bastards' out mentality. That's why I'm picking a narrow Dave Cull victory come November (even though he is aligned to the centre-right as much as Chin is).
Now we started off at the top of New Zealand so let's end at the bottom. While all the media hoopla has been focused on Auckland's mayoral race, Invercargill is facing a very interesting mayoral contest too. Tim (I don't care where I'm mayor) Shadbolt has come under intense pressure following the surprise sacking of his deputy Neil Boniface late last year. While the former deputy mayor is one of his challengers, Shadbolt's main rival appears to be Invercargill's version of a celebrity candidate, country singer (and National supporter) Suzanne Prentice. Yet again (as in many local authorities around the country) celebrities with name power are being used to challenge a once successful incumbent. While I don't know what's happening in Invercargill, from talking to people who come from down that way, local conservatism should narrowly favour Shadbolt. On the other hand, though, the star power of Prentice (and the fact she isn't on council and hasn't been party to its squabbling) might be enough to see Shadbolt ousted. If that's the case, Shadbolt might then have to search for another council to become mayor of (and everyone is praying it isn't Auckland).
On that note, I urge everyone who is enrolled to vote in the September/October voting period (and if you're not enrolled, then go and do so!). Local body elections - coming to a council near you soon!
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