Cheat sheet: The remarkable redemption of Hamilton City Council

The extraordinary battle for the Tron has ended in a way no one quite saw coming, with the city relinquishing its stranglehold on the title of New Zealand’s most embarrassing council. Angela Cuming reports.

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The so-called City of the Future has finally been dragged into the 21st century, with Hamiltonians taking it upon themselves to get rid of the bad apples rotting in the council chambers and replacing them with some much more diverse, progressive councillors. These are changes the election has wrought in Hamilton local politics.

Who lost their council seats?

First, the goodbyes: three of Hamilton’s most controversial councillors: Siggi Henry, James Casson and Garry Mallett, all lost at the ballot box.

Why is it a good thing they are gone?

Where do we even start? To recap: the tinfoil hat-wearing, disabled-parking spot hogger Siggi Henry was the anti-vaxxer who believes that measles is not deadly and that fluoride lowers IQ. She also once claimed that refugees might not know how to use toilets

James Casson was the one who once referred to Muslim refugees as “scum” in a Facebook post and later criticised New Zealand’s handling of the Christchurch terror attacks and questioned why the nation was mourning those killed. Casson later resigned from his job at Immigration NZ.  

Garry Mallett is the one who was the subject of a formal complaint over allegations he used the words “fags” and “homos” while on council business. 

He’s also a proud supporter of Hobson’s Pledge and a former president of ACT New Zealand who during the 2005 general election made a vomiting gesture during a discussion about homosexuality. 

In his final weeks as a councillor he had been dedicating his time to railing against what he saw as “racist” Māori-only seats and wards.

Left to right: Hamilton councillors James Casson (in clown makeup), Siggi Henry (right), and Garry Mallett

Who has been elected instead?

The Tron elected some pretty progressive councillors including Sarah Thomson, a 28-year-old community lawyer and advocate for climate action (she’s the one who took the Government to court over climate change in 2017) and Kesh Naidoo-Rauf, a 34-year-old pharmacist, who ran on a platform of diversity and environmental action. They join education advocate Maxine van Oosten as the three new faces on the council. 

Special mention must go to entrepreneur and proud millennial Louise Hutt, 26, who came within 153 votes of grabbing a spot on the council – an outcome that would have been almost inconceivable a few years ago. 

So why the winds of change?

Hamilton’s voter turnout in this election hit 38.78 per cent, the highest it’s been since 2004, and that clearly influenced the results.

This was probably the first election in Hamilton where social media played a large and significant role and helped reach mostly younger and first-time voters. It was also the undoing of a few sitting councillors (see Henry and Casson). 

The city’s changing demographics would have played a part too. The city’s median age is just 32. More young people and migrants are calling with the Tron home, and that is undoubtedly having an effect at the ballot box. 

What about Hamilton’s mayor?

That was the other big news, with incumbent Andrew King losing to Paula Southgate. King is a former used-car salesman and shareholder at Kings Finance, which offers among other things property development finance for building companies. Southgate is seen by many as the ‘anti-Andrew’ and campaigned on a platform of progressive things like water quality, affordable housing and creating green spaces across the city. Her victory is further proof of a big shift to the left in local politics. 

Speaking of the environment, where does the council stand on the whole climate change thing?

Well, Hamilton City Council voted against declaring a climate emergency but that was earlier this year and a few of those councillors who voted no – including Casson and Mallett – are now gone. Expect to see this issue back before the new-look council before too long. 

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.



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