Aucklanders didn’t turn out in their droves to vote for incumbent Phil Goff but nor did they embrace the idiosyncratic campaigning of challenger John Tamihere. 

John Tamihere promised to “shake it up and sort it out” but his campaign for Auckland mayor instead shook apart and left him with the lowest vote of any main contender for the city leadership since the Super City was formed.

After the result was announced, (with Phil Goff’s preliminary total  updated Sunday night to 176,599 to Tamihere’s 79,551) the vanquished contender blamed the Labour and National parties’ supporters for voting as one against him.

He promised the ‘monster’ he had created could be a force in the general election next year, and that he wouldn’t be going away. But in truth the vote he gathered was less monster and more of a midget – its size smaller than the sum of his hopes and promises.

The voter turnout was a record low (34.6 percent, down from 38 percent last election and 35 percent in 2013) but even that couldn’t account for Tamihere’s total vote being 32,000 lower than Victoria Crone’s in 2016 and 29,000 lower than the little-known American John Palino in 2013). Goff’s winning margin of 97,000 is a record.

The turnouts in the city’s west, Tamihere’s home patch, were 31 percent in Henderson-Massey and 39 percent in Waitakere Ranges, but in the south, where he anticipated big support, the voting rates were 24.4 percent in Mangere-Otahuhu, 22.3 percent in Otara, 25.1 percent in Papatoetoe, 27 percent in Manurewa and 30 percent in Papakura. They did not indicate his presence in the campaign had moved the dial greatly.

Tamihere, a former Labour cabinet minister, had hoped that bringing in former National MP Christine Fletcher as his running-mate and engaging former Alliance and Labour official Matt McCarten with former National Party President Michelle Boag would bridge the political divide and gain him red-blue crossover votes. His billboards were frequently red and blue, to emphasise his cross appeal.

But in the end that appeal was limited. Tamihere himself said late on Sunday to Fletcher: “It didn’t work, Christine.” And he said both party organisations had delivered votes instead to Goff.

Fletcher is returned as one of the 20 councillors under Goff’s leadership, polling highest in her Eden-Albert-Puketapapa ward.

The campaign was too often diverted from what appeared to be its two core policies, a rates freeze, and highlighting council waste and the arrogance of council controlled companies. Instead big policy gambles like a new double-decker harbour bridge and selling just under half of the multi-billion dollar Watercare company were fodder for attacks from opponents.

He simultaneously charmed and horrified some audiences – not just with the infamous Sieg Heil line to Goff but in quipping about Goff’s heart attack from 2017, joking that those who wouldn’t vote for him were stupid, and claiming “someone will be going to jail when I get there” in relation to a council asset sale. He didn’t apologise for his words and tried to make a virtue of telling it like he saw it.

And as questions were raised about policies like the new harbour bridge, he was too quick to say they were just proposals that he had not had the luxury of incumbency, with policy experts and staff, to fully develop.

In his concession speech, he claimed the last major challenger to Goff (Crone, but he did not name her) had won 111,000 votes but did not stand for anything. Instead she benefited from the support of National, a boost he had been denied. 

If she didn’t stand for anything but still won 32,000 votes more than him, an obvious conclusion is the people preferred nothing to what he stood for. 

Why didn’t National, through its proxy Communities and Ratepayers (C&R) organisation, back Tamihere? It once again performed half-heartedly in its quest to control Auckland, pursuing some local boards (Orakei, Eden-Albert) and the Whau ward of the council successfully, but froze when it came to finding a viable contender to back for mayor.

It has to be wondered if Tamihere’s disappointment at the lack of support from both left and right was code for not having been provided with funding or person power from National when he needed it. One source suggested the powers-that-be realised from months out that he was not going to have enough traction to improve on his initial polling promise.

Goff won a good mayoral result and a not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been council result.

Even Tamihere couldn’t shake Aucklanders out of their electoral inertia.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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