The safe Labour seat of Rongotai will be back up for grabs with MP Paul Eagle set to announce his bid for the Wellington mayoralty, writes political editor Jo Moir

A team, including two former Beehive staffers, are doing the behind-the-scenes work for Rongotai MP Paul Eagle’s Wellington mayoralty campaign, which is likely to be announced next month.

Eagle served as councillor then deputy mayor on Wellington City Council from 2010 to 2017 before winning the Rongotai electorate at that year’s election.

The safe Labour seat had been held, up until then, by party stalwart Annette King, who retired from politics in 2017.

She was appointed New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Australia the following year.

It’s been no secret in Wellington that Eagle plans to contest the mayoralty, but he has been taking his time with the announcement. His exit will almost certainly trigger a by-election in Rongotai given he is favoured to win.

Incumbent Andy Foster is also yet to announce his mayoral plans but is expected to run against Eagle.

The three candidates who have announced already include former Green Party chief of staff Tory Whanau, Ray Chung, and Barbara McKenzie.

Eagle’s departure from central government will clear the path for another Wellington city councillor to take the seat.

Labour list MP Camilla Belich, granddaughter of former Wellington mayor James Belich, was initially tipped to replace King when she retired from politics.

Fleur Fitzsimons has the nod from the Labour Party and has already announced she isn’t seeking re-election to council at the October election, which would free her up for the move to Parliament.

Rongotai has been held by Labour since it was created ahead of the 1996 election – Eagle was personally endorsed by King to stand in the seat when she retired.

But in the lead-up to that, and since, there have been other high-profile names in the mix.

Labour list MP Camilla Belich, granddaughter of former Wellington mayor James Belich, was initially tipped to replace King when she retired from politics.

Belich was born and bred in the electorate and continues to have a close relationship with King dating back to when she was her youth MP as a teenager.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s rise within the party ahead of the 2017 election, and King stepping aside as deputy leader to make way for Ardern accelerated King’s decision to move on.

Belich hadn’t long been back in the country from London when the 2017 election came around and by then Eagle had been doing the groundwork in King’s electorate.

Belich subsequently moved to Auckland. She ran in the Epsom electorate at the 2020 election and came into Parliament high on the Labour list.

She isn’t expected to challenge Fitzsimons for Rongotai, and given she is widely tipped as a future star of the caucus a safe list position will be guaranteed in 2023.

First-term MP and Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall also has ties to the Rongotai electorate and is understood to have contemplated running in the seat when it became clear Eagle would vacate it.

But Verrall is also unlikely to challenge Fitzsimons, who is well-regarded within Labour, and given the former epidemiologist’s immediate promotion to Cabinet, she too will be assured of a high list spot at next year’s election.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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