It’s a thankless job, charged with wrangling a disparate group of councillors and a large and unwieldy organisation. The incumbent can’t decide if he still wants it, but there’s a growing list of candidates ready to take his place.
While Aucklanders may only just be returning from sunning themselves on the beach, the race to become the city’s next mayor is already heating up.
Over the last week, speculation has begun to swirl about who will run, and a number of candidates have already declared their candidacy, including current South Auckland councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins and Auckland restaurateur Leo Molloy, while Richard Hills and Viv Beck are already considered strong contenders despite not confirming their intentions.
So who is running, who’s still unsure and who’s definitely ruling themselves out, despite the rumours?
But first, what’s the incumbent up to?
As Phil Goff’s second term has got closer and closer to its end, the general consensus has been this will be his last year in politics, with suggestions he could become New Zealand’s next US ambassador.
Goff admits he’s still considering another term but the rumours of a diplomatic posting aren’t founded in reality.
“I’m not going to Washington,” he says. “That has been a rumour that has developed its own momentum – but it doesn’t have substance. If I run, I’ll be running on my merits and I won’t be talking about my opponents, and if I don’t run, I won’t be setting out to denigrate particular people. I’ve got to think about it. I’ve done 40 years in politics, so as my wife says, do I ever want a life?”
Despite recent stories suggesting he’s about to endorse Richard Hills, Goff says while the North Shore councillor is someone he’s got “a lot of time for”, he won’t be making any official endorsement,
“The electorate makes their decision and they don’t need to be told by the existing mayor who the future mayor might need to be.”
Fa’anana Efeso Collins
As outlined in Toby Manhire’s piece, Collins, a Labour politician and Manukau ward councilllor, announced this week he will seek the mayoralty with or without an endorsement from his own political party.
He says his campaign and mayoralty will be rooted in “the politics of listening” and he hopes he can be “a mayor for all”, with a particular focus on making housing more affordable and public transport free.
“We’ve got to put Auckland first,” which he says starts by having a “courageous conversation” with voters about what it’s going to take to improve the city’s infrastructure.
“I think Aucklanders are up for it.”
Molloy is another high-profile candidate, who frequently makes headlines for his business successes and quickness with a cheeky quip – or a spray of vicious invective if someone’s crossed him.
“I’ve got that Irish thing, I can talk shit,” as he told The Spinoff in a 2019 profile.
He was most recently in the news for driving a campaign to reopen the hospitality industry by December 1. The Headquarters restaurant owner says the election is like a marathon and by declaring early he feels he’s got a jump on his opponents.
“We’re 5km into the race, while the rest of them are on their fat arses, scratching their whatever on holiday.”
He sees his main rivals as being Richard Hills and Viv Beck, but then questions their worthiness, saying “are they really opponents? It’s like two poodles versus a lion.”
Molloy has also come up with nicknames for the “poodles”, dubbing Hills as “little Phil” because, as he sees it, he’s Phil Goff’s “little run-around boy”. For Beck, he’s given her the moniker “Vanilla Viv”, questioning her effectiveness as Heart of the City chief executive.
“She hasn’t stood up for the CBD during the evisceration of Queen Street, Albert Street and Pitt Street. The town has been shredded and she’s done nothing.”
When it comes to Collins, he’s far more effusive, saying he would consider offering him the deputy mayoralty if he was to win the main job.
“I think he should have been given the opportunity to run on the Labour ticket and it’s a disgrace that they chose to ignore the southside of town.”
Molloy says voters shouldn’t see his campaign as CBD-focused. “I can guarantee one thing. When I finish up in nine years’ time after three terms, this will be a lot better city.”
Returning mayoral candidate Craig Lord came third in 2019 and he expects to exceed the 30,000 votes he got last time, given his name recognition has increased.
“People know me this time around,” the former engineer and media consultant says. “I’ve been able to establish myself much more in the digital world and that’s why I’ll have a much better go at it.”
He says he’ll be running a policy-free campaign “because a mayor is only one of 21 votes” – a reference to the 20 councillors elected alongside the mayor – but he does have goals for the city, which include getting council to focus on delivering core services and to cut spending on things like public art, “million-dollar footpaths” and contractors.
He describes his campaign as being “focused on necessities over niceties”.
While Jake Law might be a newcomer to politics, you could say local government is in his blood, given he’s the grandson of former Rodney District mayor John Law. Law returned to New Zealand last September, after teaching at a private school in Shanghai for three years. He says after seeing how the council was dealing with issues like housing, public transport and climate change he was inspired to “go for it”. He will be running for both mayor and to be a councillor in the Albany ward, where he lives.
“We need more young people and more future-focused voices on council,” says the 28-year-old.
“We’ve had a lack of future planning on council, since the dawn of time basically and the creation of the supercity, and so we really need some youth and future-focused candidates.”
Another South Aucklander who has thrown his hat in the ring is lawyer Ted Johnston, who is promising to “clean up council, sort out the incompetence and failures of the current mayor and council”.
He ran for mayor as an independent in 2019 with just $100 for marketing – check out his hoardings – and garnered 15,000 votes. But he’s now the co-leader of the New Conservative Party and is hoping with their backing he’ll be elected to be the “strong, competent and caring leader” Auckland needs.
The potential contenders
Of those who are yet to declare, Richard Hills is the most prominent. The two-term councillor says he is “just waiting for that call” from Goff, before deciding his next move.
“It’s a really, really important, significant role for the city and over the past year I’ve had lots of people approach me, and had a lot of discussions about it – in the event Phil doesn’t stand.”
He says if he was to run, his mayoralty would be focused on climate change and “delivering to communities right across the city”.
“At this stage my focus is just on serving the North Shore, leading the committee work and driving the recovery from Covid.”
Beck is another name that has been repeatedly linked to a run under the centre-right Communities and Residents ticket. But the Heart of the City chief executive says she’s still not ready to go public with her decision.
“I’m definitely considering it but there are a range of things [to consider],” she says. “I’m still committed to my current role and obviously it’s a big decision. I’m not far away, but I’m not there yet.”
She says it would be an “absolute privilege” to run and her leadership would be “inclusive, cares about different views and then makes clear decisions once those views have been made”.
And Molloy’s cheeky criticism isn’t off-putting in any way.
“I think ultimately it comes down to what are the skills for the job, but people are entitled to their opinions, so it certainly doesn’t put me off.”
Rumoured but not interested
Rumours have abounded about whether the retired MP would enter the race, given her high profile and deep political experience as a minister in National-led governments.
Bennett provided a curt but polite email: “I am not running and don’t have an opinion on who will be running.”
Another former National minister with lengthy experience, Williamson responded with a phone call after I reached out over Twitter.
“I got your tweet,” he started before launching into a colourful description of why he’s ruling out the mayoralty under any circumstances.
“If I was to win the mayoralty, look for my name in the obituaries the next day, because my wife would kill me.”
However, he’s giving serious thought to running to be a councillor for the Howick ward, if the centre right was able to stand a number of strong candidates across the city.
“Part of the decision-making process is what is the configuration of candidates elsewhere as I would have a damn good chance of winning here, given my name recognition.”
Whoever is to win, Goff says they better be prepared for the relentless 12-15 hour days, and dealing with opponents who are happy to vote for “every spending decision but are against every revenue-raising one”.
“If we’re going to make this city better for our kids and our grandkids it’s about leaving a legacy behind, and the frustrating thing is that there’s always a small group that never thinks about the future.”
But given future challenges like climate change have already started to make an impact, it will soon be in the voters’ hands to decide who will guide us through it.