Democracy saved: We debated one of NZ’s top unopposed local election candidates

More than 75 candidates across the country have already succeeded in their local election races, taking office unopposed. Thankfully The Spinoff is committed to saving our democracy. We challenged high-profile default winner, Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall, to fight for his job in a political debate against local elections editor Hayden Donnell.

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.

Hamish McDouall was voted in as Whanganui mayor in 2016 with just 39% of the vote. Apparently that was seen by his potential rivals as an unassailable victory. Three years later, no one mustered the strength to challenge him for the city’s mayoralty.

That is, until now. The Spinoff local elections editor Hayden Donnell has declared himself ready to lead Whanganui into the future, and will face up to McDouall in a no-holds barred debate.

Donnell is most well-known for his valiant efforts to save precious New Zealand historical treasures in the Lightbox TV show Get It To Te Papa. McDouall has also been on TV, winning Sale Of The Century and Mastermind in consecutive years as a university student. Since then he’s written two books, including the Chris Cairns biography Chris Cairns. He stood for Labour in the Whanganui electorate three times before being elected to council in 2013.

Alex Braae (Moderator): Good afternoon and welcome to a momentous day in New Zealand’s political history. I’m Alex Braae and I’m joined by fact-checker Josie Adams and today we will be saving democracy in Whanganui. Hamish McDouall will be standing for re-election as mayor and not a single person has stood up to challenge him until now. Hayden Donnell, local elections editor of The Spinoff has stepped forward to hold power to account. Good morning to the both of you.

Both candidates: Good morning.

AB: Mayor McDouall we’ll start with you. In 30 seconds, could you please explain why the people of Whanganui should vote for you.

Video: Opening statements

Hamish McDouall (Candidate): Well I’ve done a pretty good job I think. I’ve advocated strongly for central Government to bring money to Whanganui. I’ve promoted the district enthusiasti…

AB: I’m sorry Mayor McDouall, your time is up. Hayden Donnell, same question thank you.

Hayden Donnell (Candidate): My opponent is bad for Whanganui. I am good for Whanganui. Hamish McDouall may be a Sale of the Century winner but he is a ‘Mayor of the Century’ loser. He may be a Mastermind on TV but he is a ‘Dumb Mind’ in real life. 

On Aucklanders

AB: Mayor McDouall, a lot of Aucklanders are moving to Whanganui at the moment. What’s your plan to deport them back?

HM: No we’re really happy to have Aucklanders here. We’re not looking to deport them. We’re looking to suck all the energy and industry and capital out of Auckland to here.

HD: I think that’s a soft response from my opponent. What he should be looking to do with the Aucklanders who move to Whanganui is he should be melting them down to fuel the town.

AB: Whanganui’s water is some of the hardest in New Zealand. It calcifies in the very jug. How long should residents be leaving it and how hard should they let it get before they drink it?

HM: Yes we understand our hard water issues and we’ve tried to soften it by finding some new bores but it’s just a lot of effort to find decent water in the aquifers and the like…

HD: [Interjecting] Well we wouldn’t… 

Josie Adams (Fact-Checker): Hayden Donnell, wait your turn…

HD: … [Shouting] We wouldn’t want the council to have to put in a lot of effort in to make our water less disgusting? This is the thing: I’m an effort mayor! I’m an effort mayor!

JA: I’d like to point out that every other city in the country manages to not have very hard water.

HD: The jug bill in Whanganui is the highest in the country!

HM: It’s not unhealthy water. It completely meets every requirement. 

On Public Transport

AB: Mayor McDouall, what time does the last Pink Line Castlecliff service depart Trafalgar Square?

HM: Oh, ah, 6.30 I reckon.

AB: The correct answer was 5.10pm. Hayden Donnell, is that too early?

HD: I’ve barely woken up by 5.10 in the afternoon.

HM: But we’re promoting active transport. You can cycle in and out from Castlecliff all along the river. It’s a beautiful trip. And I think that’s what Castlecliff residents will be doing, allowing them to hang around later in the night.

HD: But maybe there should be options besides a bike. Not everyone bikes.

HM: People do canoe down the river to get to work. There’s one who does it regularly

JA: Is that publicly funded? 

HM: No, that’s his personal canoe.

On Chris Cairns

AB: Mayor McDouall you wrote the book Chris Cairns, which is about Chris Cairns. Do you stand by Chris Cairns now?

HM: Well, no. I stand by the book. But ah, I think ah, it’s, is it… I don’t think he ever cheated while playing for New Zealand.

AB: Would you accept his vote if he tried to cast one for you?

HM: Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I?

HD: This is the key difference between us. My opponent refuses to disavow Chris Cairns. I am happy to disavow Chris Cairns, and I would not work with Chris Cairns or accept Chris Cairns’ vote. 

AB: Mayor McDouall, your book Chris Cairns is rated 3.4 stars on Fishpond.co.nz. Do you think that’s a fair reflection of the work that went into it?

HM: Oh well, a lot of work went into it. It was six months of work that went into it and it was pretty intense interviews. Look, it’s not the book that you write because it goes through lawyers, it goes through editors, it goes through agents. But I’m pretty proud of the effort I put into it. 

AB: Is 3.4 a fair score Hayden?

HD: I think 3.4 stars is a generous score. But 3.4 stars shows that my opponent is out-of-step with everyday Kiwis. 

On Rates and Democracy

AB: There’s a question here about rates. Who wrote these questions? Did Hayden Donnell write these questions? We’ve just broken some news in this debate: Mayor McDouall, how do you respond to the news that there’s massive-scale corruption happening in this very debate?

Video: Meltdown

HM: Well this is just why we have to keep guarding democracy to our best ability and opening up democracy to someone like Hayden…

HD: [Shouting like a lunatic] This is rich. This is very rich! Coming from a man who’s being elected unopposed. Safeguard democracy? How would you feel if you’d won Sale of the Century without any opponents? How would you feel if you’d won Mastermind without that old man that you did beat in the final? I’m just trying to find a clip…

HM: *Indecipherable interjection*

HD: Excuse me Hamish, I’m just trying to find a clip – for the record – here’s a clip of you winning Mastermind

[Hayden plays a clip of Hamish McDouall competing in Mastermind]

Mastermind host Peter Sinclair: Roald Dahl created a children’s character called the BFG. What did the initials stand for?

Young Hamish: Pass

[Clip ends]

HD: Pass! Pass!! PASS!! You don’t know what the BFG stands for. The Big Friendly Giant! The Big Friendly Giant, Hamish! My God. Safeguarding democracy. What about safeguarding our children’s treasured stories!

HM: Okay, fair cop. I didn’t know what the BFG was. Now I do. But at least I didn’t write the questions for my Mastermind round, which is what Hayden would do if he ever managed to qualify for Mastermind.

JA: Hayden, do you have any final words?

HD: I may not have won Sale Of The Century, but Sale Of The Century is what my opponent is trying to do to the people of Whānganui by selling them off to a bad mayor, which is him. In any case, Sale Of The Century is not the people’s game show. Wheel Of Fortune is the people’s game show, and I would’ve won Wheel Of Fortune if I was allowed to be a contestant on it.

AB: Thank you, that’s all we have time for today.

The Spinoff local election coverage is entirely funded by The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.



The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.