Hayden Donnell identifies the people who did well, and the ones who got massively owned, in this weekend’s elections.
Potential commissioners in Auckland
Wayne Brown’s tenure as Far North mayor was a bonanza for government investigators. In two terms he prompted an Auditor General inquiry and a Serious Fraud Office investigation. A confidential council inquiry and a District Court case followed soon after he was defeated. He’s remembered for cutting staff numbers to the bone, allegedly getting offside with councillors and staff, and writing Herald columns taunting people who marched in opposition to mining on conservation land as “ill-informed urban dwellers” or “misguided celebrity actress Lucy Lawless”.
Before he was mayor of the Far North, he was the chairman of several DHBs, and that was
scandal-free also very filled with scandals. In Auckland, he was the subject of calls to resign after overseeing the decision to relieve Diagnostic Medlabs of the contract for medical testing and hand it to the Australian outlet Labtests. He also allegedly suggested renaming Starship Hospital as “Ratshit”, which, while funny, is not a great name for a children’s hospital.
During his mayoral campaign, Brown’s been criticised by multiple iwi for insinuating Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is the only iwi with mana whenua status in Tāmaki Makaurau. He’s referred to Chinese migrants as “Chinamen”, spoken about the “transactional” nature of East Asian constituents and joked about sticking pictures of Herald journalist Simon Wilson to the urinals. In the latest Metro, former Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey describes him as “a stick of dynamite in search of a match”.
And now he’s the mayor! But the spotlight will be on Brown like never before. If he ends up screaming at Mike Lee, pushing Richard Hills down a flight of stairs, tweeting abuse at Maurice Williamson or renaming the Town Hall the “Shit Hall”, the government could deem his administration to be dysfunctional and step in, as it has in Tauranga. Maybe the true winner of this election will be the commissioners that earned millions of future dollars along the way.
Potential commissioners in Christchurch
Just before the election, Christchurch City Council decided to try a tactic employed by luminaries like Vinnie Eastwood and Kelvyn Alp and claimed sovereign citizen status. When confronted with government laws requiring it to enable housing density around town centres, it opted to simply say “no thank you”. I’m no legal scholar, but that option doesn’t seem to be available when it comes to other laws, and taking this route might leave the council in what is traditionally known as a “fucked” position when it comes to the precedents, torts and whatnot.
Despite that troubling situation, the new council looks set to continue its defiance. One of the councillors who voted for this bold legal strategy is now the mayor. The government is still reviewing its legal position, but there’s every chance the Garden City will be welcoming some kind of democratic enforcement squad alongside its brand new council in the coming months.
This guy just can’t stop winning elections in Nelson.
The Hindenburg-style combustion of just about every Labour candidate in the country seems like a good sign for National, even if only 14 people total voted in our local elections.
Another election in the books for the country’s most persistent and enigmatic local government candidate. Preliminary results have him at 281 votes, trailing Phil Mauger in the race for Christchurch mayor by roughly 49,800 votes. Hansen will be familiar with losing, having unsuccessfully run for nearly every elected role in the city since 1969. As the saying goes, you’ve gotta be in it to lose it, and nobody has been in it or lost it more times than Tubby.
It pains me to say it, but the city I once rated two stars is the biggest winner this election. In what will go down as one of local government’s greatest glow ups, it exchanged mayor Andy Foster for mayor Tory Whanau. While ageing punishers dominated races across the country, it re-elected pro-housing councillors like Tamatha Paul and Rebecca Matthews. The capital is now a fort at the bottom of the North Island holding back a reactionary tide, like the brave soldiers of Rohan standing firm at Helms Deep against the multitudinous army of Saruman’s orcs.
The North Shore
People like to talk down the North Shore. It’s ugly. There are guards stationed at the border charged with shooting anyone seen walking or cycling on sight. It has all the character and refinement of a Michael Bay film. But in a local election that served up a bloodbath for progressives across the isthmus, the true blue Shore is now the last bastion of climate friendly politics. It re-elected pro-cycling and public transport incumbents Chris Darby and Richard Hills. Just as importantly, the good people of Devonport-Takapuna completely defenestrated Heart of the Shore, a local board ticket last seen voting against people being allowed a public toilet.
Rich old white people
Congratulations guys, you did it again. The class of people that brought us the housing crisis, the infrastructure crisis, the inequality crisis, and Hobson’s Pledge have struck another decisive blow to the hopes and dreams of their children, electing a huge number of their peers to positions of influence through a contorted, undemocratic system which favours them immensely.
More on that later!
The man with the golden grin is a legend of local democracy. In 24 years as mayor, he achieved the impressive feat of making people pay attention to Invercargill, raising its profile by competing on Dancing With The Stars, being interviewed for 26 hours straight, and appearing as a contestant on a celebrity special of The Weakest Link. Recently though, it’s become clear it would be better for someone else to take over, both for the city and Shadbolt himself. This election it happened, with the improbably named Nobby Clark winning the mayoralty. The loss is a victory for Shadbolt, who should now collect some well-deserved applause on his way out.
It should’ve been Marcus Lush, you bozos.
This city is addicted to electing Nick Smith and needs an intervention.
In Christchurch, one of these two men became mayor but I will never be able to tell which one.
Auckland meanwhile is going through a Fibonacci sequence of ageing white, male mayors, with a 76-year-old former mayor taking over from a 69-year-old former cabinet minister, who took over from a then 60-year-old former mayor. If its mayors keep getting older, the city is going to re-elect the corpse of Dove Myer Robinson in 2031 and finally get light rail. Maybe that will go some way toward making up for it not electing its first Pasifika mayor when it had the chance.
In 2019, Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell found there were more councillors named John (33) than councillors born after 1980 (32). More than 90% of councils were male dominated. Despite some notable exceptions such as Tory Whanau and new Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell, this trend has likely remained in 2022. If our local governments had a face, it would still be wrinkly and white.
Wayne Brown isn’t all bad. He didn’t post an Iwi/Kiwi-style ad to his social media for one thing. His preference for cheap, easy wins over expensive, gold-plated projects would be welcome in car-clogged Auckland, where big changes need to happen quickly. But many of his quotes to the media seem to indicate that he’s less in favour of doing things quickly, and more in favour of stopping them happening at all. Following his election victory, his first instinct was to rail against Three Waters, housing density, and perhaps most worryingly of all, road cones.
Brown was elected on a promise to “fix Auckland”. The main reason the city needs fixing is because for decades, there wasn’t enough road cones. It didn’t invest in pipes. Now most of its beaches are flooded with sewage in even a light downpour. It failed to provide a functioning public transport network. Now it has to dig a multi-billion dollar tunnel through the city centre. It made it difficult to build dense housing. Now its housing crisis is one of the worst in the world.
Auckland’s road cones are the best thing it’s got going for it right now. They’re a bright orange sign of progress in motion. A mayor that wants to get rid of them isn’t fixing Auckland; he’s guaranteeing it remains broken.
Progress (not Auckland)
In Dunedin, Christchurch and several other major centres, progressive mayors have been replaced by candidates who are opposed to housing density and transport choice. Luckily there’s not some kind of major global crisis happening which necessitates urgent changes to the way we live in order to avert disastrous consequences that will affect all future generations.
In most elections, the best way to win a council election is to have already won a council election. Incumbents have a huge advantage in low turnout, low information local politics, where just having a name people vaguely remember seeing somewhere once is enough to win a race. This time round, high-profile incumbent mayors like Aaron Hawkins, Andy Foster, and Tim Shadbolt have been voted out, while others have seen their winning margins substantially reduced. The trend is especially pronounced in urban areas. Having said that, it would be more accurate to say the loser this election is…
The status quo
Many people will paint this election as a win for the right, and it is, but more than that, it’s a vehement rejection of the status quo. Some of the results will boil down to anger over cycleways or dense housing, but Whanau’s win in Wellington is evidence the wider electorate isn’t rejecting progressive ideas wholesale so much as lashing out at a stale, grinding political landscape that’s left many of them worse off now than they were three, six, nine, or 12 years ago. That’s bad news for the next entry on this list.
In the first episode of the latest season of Alice Snedden’s Bad News, finance minister Grant Robertson wrings his hands as he defends Labour’s “incremental and progressive approach” to shrinking Aotearoa’s wealth gap. “You could burn very very brightly as a government for three years and then disappear into the wilderness, and things would get a lot worse,” he says.
So true. Why would you want to burn brightly for three years only to lose when you could simmer meekly for three years and lose instead? Labour’s technocratic incrementalism, cynically aimed at trying to cling to as much of its vote as possible at the expense of its core principles, has managed to wipe out at least 30% of its support in the last three years.
Now its candidates have been smashed up and down the country. In some cases its endorsement seemed actively harmful. By the end of Collins’ campaign, his opponents were sticking Labour stickers to his hoardings in what his advisors described as an “attack tactic”.
With the tide rapidly going out on its 2023 election odds, perhaps Labour should try hitting the nuclear button and actually making life meaningfully better for its broad base of potential voters.
One suggestion: copy and pasting Australia’s federal income tax rates.
You might think I’ve placed Viv Beck in this position because she stood for mayor, won a major ticket’s endorsement, then pulled out of the race just weeks before the election when it was too late to take her name off the voting papers. You’re wrong. She’s actually here because in 2019 she announced that Heart of the City would no longer erect Auckland’s Giant Santa at Christmas.
It’s no exaggeration to say her decision destroyed Auckland. Sending the city’s most beloved icon to Wanaka sent Queen St into a spiral from which it still hasn’t recovered, caused Covid-19, and raised the volcanic alert level in Lake Taupo. Despite not running, Beck earned 5,700 votes. Somehow all this still doesn’t put her on the level of this election’s gigantic losers, which are…
If this is what passes for local democracy in this country, it’s not worth the sodden, unopened postal ballots it’s not written on. When turnout dropped to 35% in Auckland last election, many people said “surely it can’t get any lower”. Those starry-eyed fools. Turnout is expected to struggle to reach 33% this time. Projections by The Spinoff put it on track to reach 0% by 2050.
The problem isn’t just that we’re not voting, it’s how we’re not voting. Old, rich, Pākahā people are vastly more likely to participate in local elections than anyone else. Research carried out by Auckland Council last election found only 20% of eligible people in the 26-30 age bracket voted, while 61% of people aged 76-80 cast a ballot. Māori recorded 25% turnout, compared to 36% for non-Māori. People in richer areas generally voted more and those in poor areas voted less.
From what we know about 2022, that research remains relevant. In Auckland, Ōtara, Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, and Manurewa all recorded turnout in the low 20s. Nationwide, it barely cracked 40%.
This is farcical. If we were a poorer nation, the UN would be sending in a special rapporteur to produce a report on our failing democracy. The government urgently needs to enact wide-scale reforms, starting with forcibly wresting elections out of the hands of the next people on this list.
Private election companies
Democracy may be the most gigantic loser this election but it couldn’t have inflated its failure to such huge proportions without the help of the private companies that run our local elections.
“Private companies run our local elections? Wtf,” you might exclaim. That’s right. The Electoral Commission may run our general elections, marshalling impressively high turnout through the awesome and terrible power of its Orange Golem, but for inexplicable reasons we’ve left council elections to the rotting hand of the democratic free market. The resulting bungling is truly the farty wind beneath our failing local democracy’s crap-encrusted wings.
This election, as with the last, Auckland endured the spectacle of people turning up to vote only to find there weren’t enough voting papers. When people tried to ring up to complain, their calls went to voicemail. It turns out the day before the election, the company charged with overseeing the voting still only operates 8am to 5pm. On the final voting day, only three locations were open to cast a special vote, which resulted in huge queues. In Henderson, people didn’t vote after being incorrectly told there wouldn’t be time for them to do so. Meanwhile, hundreds of people just didn’t receive their voting papers, including the minister for local government.
Hopefully the weekend’s still simmering dung fire of democracy will motivate some meaningful change before 2025 rolls around.
Here’s to three more years of screaming into the void of local politics, hoping it screams back.