Four Auckland mayoral hopefuls stood up last night in a South Auckland marae to tell onlookers how they would tackle some of the issues most central to the hearts of Aucklanders.
Viv Beck, Efeso Collins, Craig Lord and Leo Molloy were in attendance at Ngā Whare Waatea in Mangere in a debate that took most of the expected avenues and alleyways of local government rhetoric, from public transport and housing to the performance of the current crop of councillors.
They represented four of the front-runners in the campaign in these early days, with Wayne Brown scheduled to appear but called away on family business and New Conservative co-leader Ted Johnston not on the slate at all.
Aside from a few key issues that divided the contenders – notably co-governance, which Collins and Molloy are staunchly behind, Beck has fielded concerns about and Lord is not a fan of – a good amount of the platitudes on offer seemed to come from the same recipe book.
Everyone proffered the importance of collaboration within Council chambers, and that getting Auckland out of its current “spot of bother” (Lord’s words) when it comes to cost of living, congestion and infrastructure strains was going to take some doing.
They all acknowledged being the mayor of the country’s biggest city is a tough job, perhaps made tougher by the amalgamation of seven councils into one with the 2010 birth of the supercity.
Even moderator Shane Te Pou lead the evening with a reference to the fact that the job will take some steel.
“Politics is not a nice game these days and it’s becoming increasingly tough,” he said.
But despite some talking points that echoed one another, there were also moments of friction between the candidates, mostly centred around controversial ex-hospo man Molloy, who called Lord an “old redneck” for opposing co-governance and labeled his co-candidates “the seagulls following the trawler… while I am the trawler.”
After a brief verbal altercation with an interrupting Beck, her concluding statement included reference to being the subject of anger and insults during the campaign, and questioned whether this could reflect the style of leadership Auckland needs.
“I’ve seen anger tonight, delivered at me,” she said. “From someone who’s been lobbing insults at me in the last six months and I’ve risen above them.”
Molloy came out of the gate as the candidate with the most media buzz due to past controversial comments and… well, present controversial comments.
Despite this his approach last night was relatively soft-spoken, speaking directly and running through his list of policies on what he called “day number 50 in our circuit of telling people how wonderful we are”.
He did seem to land on both sides of deciding if he wanted to be humble or not, at times clearly stating his weaknesses such as his lack of political experience and at other times telling us “No-one traverses the city like I do” and finishing off the night by saying he was willing to lay down his life for Tāmaki Makaurau.
But despite the fiery beginning to his campaign and circus antics in waterfront boxing rings, Molloy delivered nothing too extreme when it came to policy, saying he wanted to make sure young people stay in Auckland and shrink Auckland Council.
The biggest swing he made was perhaps a promise of fares-free public transport, which he said was the “single best piece of policy Efeso has stolen from me”.
Collins was unmoved by the ribbing of his co-candidate, and moved through his talking points with a smooth confidence belying this is not his first rodeo in politics.
He’s been on Auckland local boards and councils for almost a decade, while the other three candidates in attendance are coming in from the outside.
“I have experience in understanding how the machine works,” he said.
Also, unlike his rivals, Collins was on his home turf, leading supporters in a Samoan waiata before proceedings began.
He also fancied himself the most social media-adept, saying he was the candidate doing the best on “Insta and TikTok”.
Politically, he served up a left-of-centre people-focused set of ideas, stressing the need for climate action and compact urban design.
But as a member of the current Council, he couldn’t muster quite the same vitriol to the current establishment as his fellows.
Lord in particular had some colourful snipes at the current crowd, and tried to sell his lack of political experience as a special feature, saying what Auckland needs is an engineer cum freelance broadcaster cum marriage celebrant cum boy scout.
“An engineer is pragmatic…” he said. “There’s no point trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole, but we know how to make a round hole square.”
Lord said most of his policies are “unglamourous”, with more interest in “fiscal prudence” than revolution.
He talked about wanting to protecting Pukekohe soils, overhauling the Council’s preferred contractor system and restoring CCO control to Council.
When asked what he’d do about youth homelessness, he said “you’re not going to like my answer… I do believe the Council’s job is to provide a core service, not a social service”.
It’s Lord’s second run at the job, after coming third with just over eight percent of the vote back in 2019.
Rounding out the candidates on show was Heart of the City CEO Viv Beck, who said standing for mayor was “not for the faint-hearted”.
Beck said she was motivated to run after seeing the effect the pandemic had had on small businesses in Auckland, and that seems to be her main focus, with a suite of centre-right policies that will satisfy much of the business community.
She emphasised her background of senior roles across the public and private sector, saying she was well-equipped to work with a range of people and have a constructive relationship with central Government.
“I have a multicultural life, in a way,” she said multiple times, referencing her European immigrant family background and Māori husband.
But when moderator Shane Te Pou put her on the spot and asked her if she knows where South Auckland staple greasy spoon Sam Woo’s was, she drew a blank to a few good-natured heckles from the audience.
It seemed Te Pou was almost a little regretful of the tongue-in-cheek question, apologising to Beck for putting her on the spot.
Molloy piped in saying he didn’t know where Sammy Woo’s was either, but he does know where the White Lady is.
With the election on October 8, there’s still months to go before Aucklanders are asked to step up to the ballot box and make a call between these four and the other candidates who weren’t in attendance.
That means there’s still plenty of time for more public appearances and more debates – and more opportunities for the mayoralty hopefuls to differentiate themselves from one another and give Aucklanders a reason to choose them.
Te Pou finished off proceedings by saying he thought it was a good, robust korero, with the questions answered well.
And while early polls point towards a lead for Collins, what happens in the aftermath of a few more debates is anybody’s guess.