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Something weird is going on with the Herald’s local election coverage

Why is there a Swarbrick-shaped hole in the Herald’s 23-page election guide? Hayden Donnell has a whinge.

The Herald’s recent local body election guide is mostly unremarkable. There are interviews with the main mayoral contenders. An obligatory trudge through the wards. An even more obligatory trudge through the regions. One piece blaming uncool political candidates for voter apathy.

So far, so by-the-numbers.

But flick through the booklet again. It’s an ocean of old. Dead, grey eyes stare out of nearly every page, imploring you to help them change a few sewage rules before they shuffle off this mortal coil.

There are no young people. No wacky beliefs in things like “hope” or “change”.

It feels like there’s something missing.

THE THING THAT IS MISSING. PHOTO: DEXTER MURRAY

THE THING THAT IS MISSING. PHOTO: DEXTER MURRAY

You could understand the Herald just wanting to cover the main contenders; to interview Crone and Goff, and get on with the scintillating ward battles.

But this booklet drinks deep from the goblet of electoral hopelessness. There’s David Hay, who famously ran a doomed, futile campaign to be leader of the Green Party and is now running a doomed, futile campaign to be the mayor of Auckland. Mark Thomas, who is kinda sorta credible but also kinda sorta not running for mayor any more. Penny Bright, who only refers to herself in third person as “Her Warship”, which admittedly fucken rules.

All three of those certain future failures are below Chlöe Swarbrick in the latest polling.

Despite that, all three – along with Goff, Crone, and John Palino – get to make their case on why they’d make a great mayor to Bernard Orsman.

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And all three get to explain their policies in a double page spread.

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Meanwhile, this dismissive single-sentence blurb (“The youngest candidate, at 22, who wants to be the voice of Auckland’s future”) is the only mention Swarbrick gets in the whole 23-page guide.

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And this is Swarbrick’s response to whether she was asked to be interviewed for the booklet.

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Did the Herald team decide who to interview based on reverse order of life expectancy?

It’s not like Swarbrick’s likely to win. Her top poll result to date shows her with 7% support among decided voters. But her campaign has energised Aucklanders who are usually about as excited by local politics as they would be by passing a kidney stone. Her Facebook page has roughly 14,327 times the engagement of any other candidate besides Cathy Casey*, whose personal page is a repository of beautiful, necessary “Pukeko pic-me-ups”.

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Even without those credentials, she’s a curiosity: a 22-year-old who’s running a serious campaign for mayor and making thousands of converts.

The Herald election guide team’s decision not to include her looks patronising. It feels like they’re okay covering a young candidate so long as it’s a usual “good on you for having a go” story, but can’t wrap their heads around the prospect of taking one seriously.

That’s particularly unfair, especially when you compare Swarbrick’s policies to those of her opponents.

Palino wants to magic up a satellite city in south Auckland. Thomas wants to sweep homeless people from the streets. Bright calls the Unitary Plan the “Lunatic Plan” and labels Generation Zero the “youth wing of the Property Council”. David Hay’s website is heydavidhay.nz.

Quacks and kooks all. But the Herald would rather cover a middle-aged maniac than a young person with uppity ideas. The truth is Swarbrick is smarter than most of them put together. Not only that, she has more momentum and support. Surely that’s worth a couple of column inches.

After all, where has voting in middle-aged men got us so far?

* Cathy Casey is the mother of Spinoff staffer Alex Casey, but Alex had no influence over Hayden’s love for Pukeko pic-me-ups.

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