Among the weirdos running for local government are some good weirdos – ones who dedicate their lives to public service. Anna Rawhiti-Connell discusses the importance of a safe pair of hands.
There’s an awful lot of weirdos in our neighbourhood. As a child of the eighties, I am very familiar with Colin McNaughton’s book of that name. It’s collection of odd and silly poems about the weirdos in his, yours or anyone’s neighbourhood. That book title also pops into my head every three years when the local government candidate booklet arrives. It’s a parade of weirdos. Some loveable, some irksome, and some whose bios exist in a land where punctuation doesn’t.
Elections always attract strange folk. In the last general election, we had a candidate standing for the North Shore seat who had also popped herself in the running to become the Secretary General at the UN and has gone on to suggest we need a referendum to decide if the North Shore should become an independent state. As a five-year resident of the People’s Republic of Devonport, I couldn’t support this. We want our own independence with a border crossing at the Hauraki shops.
Local government elections seem to attract an even deeper vein of weirdos. There are more seats and two levels of power in Auckland and this naturally increases the pool of weirdos who stand.
This year we have 21 people running for mayor. This includes one candidate who, after completing the John Kehoe Mind Powers Quantum Leap course, has discovered she is “outstanding, awesome and amazing” and that this is a solid qualification for being mayor. I can’t fault her chutzpah, but I sense ratepayers will resent the time given over to daily affirmations in the chamber, not to mention the additional cost of installing a mirror to do them in.
Then there’s the guy who didn’t want to stand for mayor but felt he had to in order to champion the single cause of plastic roads. It’s actually a legitimate thing but seems to be a quite narrow platform. My favourite is the guy who has written ‘Old Skool’ (sic) in the place where other candidates have stated their affiliation.
There are the usual anti-abortion, Communist League and Hemp Party types as well as a vast number of candidates promising to never, ever increase rates and to dismantle the entire system in favour of their own, sure-fire, totally seamless solution.
I live in the Devonport-Takapuna ward. This year’s battle for Council and local board seats has been deeply weird. Phantom Facebook pages run by apparently concerned citizens of the Shore featuring graphics of the Grim Reaper and mocked-up images of those notice boards, with red string connected to post-it notes, that you see in the movies when the cops find the room previously occupied by the sociopathic killer.
I often wonder if this weirdness and the weirdos involved put people off voting. Or getting involved themselves. Voter turnout for local elections is low in Auckland. There’s a concern based on returns at the moment that it may be lower than last time. It doesn’t seem to matter how much media coverage the elections attract or how much urging by the earnest we hear, people just don’t seem to be able to tick those boxes and post the ballots back.
The problem with that is the super weird are advantaged by this apathy. If you’ve gotten involved because you feel passionately about something, odds are it’s not a realistically moderate and boring platform you’ve thrown yourself into. When we get hot under the collar about something, it’s often a single cause. There aren’t any Facebook pages for ‘I support people who just get on with the daily grind of trying to make things happen by being collaborative and diligent while patiently listening to residents complain about sand blowing up from the beach and thank God they’re weird enough to make this choice for their life’.
Incumbent mayor Phil Goff has been accused of running a rather low-key campaign but honestly, I’m grateful he has. We don’t need a super-maverick for mayor. We don’t need a disruptor or a game-changer. We need a career politician. Who else in their right mind would volunteer for this life and get some things done in the process? Auckland is a city experiencing growing pains and the business of running it is hard and complex. There is no silver bullet and no single cause that is a higher priority than anyone else’s single cause. No matter how many candidates tell you they can fix it and get the snouts out of the trough, none of them would be able to come up with a way to do anything that’s substantially different to the way things are now. Sure hands might not be exciting but let’s be honest, nor is local government.
It is crucial though and yes, I’m going to join the earnest commentariat and encourage you to vote. Don’t let the weirdness put you off. Amongst the drum banging and inarticulate Facebook ads are some good weirdos. The kind of weirdos who have volunteered to spend their life in public service. The kind of weirdos who sit in meetings all day, only to make an inch of progress. The weirdos who work to make sure kids have playgrounds and parks and that your driveway isn’t part of an urban cross-country course.
There’s an awful lot of weirdos in our neighbourhood but they’re your weirdos. Pick a few to annoy about your own weird issues. Just make sure they’re the variety of weirdo that chooses a life of public service and not enslavement to single causes and promises of change that can’t be delivered.