Race briefing: Palmerston North, the election that’s so thrilling it’s a crime

In our final local elections race briefing of 2019 (read the rest here), Josie Adams (who is lame) visits Palmerston North (which is cool).

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First of all, Palmerston North is not New Plymouth. Palmy has a university and the Plym has a music festival. Both pits of sin, but different. Palmy is an inland city that sits in the Manawatū, between a gorge and a river. Despite this, it’s still very flat. The fertile land around Palmy is an agricultural dream. The cows that throng on its borders provide Massey University with great fodder for research, so there is a strong academic element to Palmy’s 86,000-strong population; this is balanced with a glut of farmers.

Palmy technically takes up a fair amount of rural space outside its urban boundaries: it extends to the Tararua Ranges and takes in Bunnythorpe in the north and Longburn in the south. Speaking of the south, yes, there is a Palmerston South (in the South Island). 

What are some of the big issues for Palmerston North this election?

The zero carbon bill is a massive point of contention. Although most people in Palmerston North will acknowledge the environment is entering crisis mode, some are reluctant to take on the challenges required; as an agricultural hub, Palmy needs to make bigger changes than many other places. Good news for those worried about having to create less methane: as it currently reads, the bill isn’t actually binding (Section 5ZK).

The Palmerston North Council won the 2019 Local Government Jonesie for its Toyota grant. Named after big spender Shane Jones, the Jonesie Waste Awards is a fledgling awards/PR opportunity from the Taxpayers Union that “celebrates the worst of government waste”. The council attracted the boring (note double meaning) eyes of the Taxpayers’ Union by deciding, behind closed doors, to give the world’s largest car manufacturer a $391,000 “grant” to keep its operations in the city. Ratepayers are split on the wisdom of this decision, but are generally pissed off with the secrecy surrounding it.

Another issue exercising locals is the cancellation of this year’s Defence Industry Forum after protest at last year’s event, the first to be held in Palmerston North. The New Zealand Defence Industry Association’s annual forum is widely known by opponents as a ‘weapon expo’, the term peace activists prefer. Incumbent mayor Grant Smith has said he’d like to distance the council from events related to guns and armaments. Other candidates will need to take a stance on this issue as the expo may rear its head again next year. 

Who’s running for mayor?

Grant Smith is running for re-election. Throughout this term he’s dedicated himself to facetime with constituents, putting in 60-hour weeks so everyone who wants to can meet the mayor (he might want to ask Tim Shadbolt if he has any ‘I met the mayor’ wristbands going spare). Smith is campaigning on his successes this term: revitalising the city centre, collaborating with regional bodies, and growing strategic relationships with Rangitāne iwi. Going forward, he’s thinking about a new wastewater consent and social housing.

Teanau Tuiono is running in two races. One is to be mayor of Palmerston North, and the other is for the title of New Zealand’s first official Green Party mayor (he’s up against Dunedin candidate Aaron Hawkins).  Tuiono wants the city carbon neutral by 2040, and to establish a housing and homelessness strategy informed by tenant and homeless advocates. He’s a fluent speaker of te reo Māori and has experience working in international law with the United Nations: Agenda 21 puppet alert!

Andy Asquith says he’s standing for the mayoralty because the race lacked a credible challenger. He’s originally from Yorkshire, but joined Massey University’s ranks in 2005 and is currently a senior lecturer at the School of Management. He has a PhD in local government management, which seems very on the nose. He wants more evidence-based policy and increased transparency. 

Pierre Hussein Kikhounga N’got is a former refugee who speaks several languages, volunteers with the Red Cross, and is vice-president of both the Alliance Francaise Palmerston North and the Manawatū Multicultural Society. He knows people hate paying rates, but acknowledges they’re the “lifeblood” of a city.

Maruna Engu runs a doughnut store and is very open about his sex crime conviction. He says he’s not that guy anymore, and if elected will incorporate “love” as the seventh principle guiding the council. “Donutman 4 mayor” is his call to action.

Ross Barber has a conviction for child assault, but is no longer trespassed from the Horizons Regional Council building, which should make his job easier if elected. Barber’s running as Team God. He’s concerned about teen suicide, addiction, and crime, and has also accused Grant Smith of using children as collateral, whatever that means.

Who will win?

There are a few strong contenders, but Grant Smith built a pretty good portfolio this term. If he’s going to be beat, it’ll probably be by Teanau Tuiono. Tuiono has solid policy, relevant experience, and good grassroots support.

What is the voting method?

The best one: Single Transferable Vote (STV).

The Spinoff local election coverage is made possible thanks to The Spinoff Members. For more about becoming a member and supporting The Spinoff’s journalism click here.

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