With 12 days to go until a new mayor is declared for Auckland, Labour-backed Efeso Collins is forced to go after Wayne Brown, who has passed him in the polls

Things could go one of two ways for the man who has led the pack for the Auckland mayoralty all year but now finds himself behind in polls in the crucial weeks as voters send back their ballots.

He either gets left behind, like an athlete who was out on his own in a bold tactic in a middle distance race, only to be inexorably pulled in early in the final lap and left in the winner’s wake.

Or he and his campaign somehow find a second wind, find the heart and legs to go again.

There are just 12 days left in the closest mayoral contest since the super city was formed in 2010. Brown is ahead on 35 percent to Collins on 29 in the final Kantar opinion poll, for Sunday’s Q&A programme on TVNZ, backing up his 27-25 percent lead in the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance-Curia September poll released last week.

Collins has simultaneously issued a flurry of media statements unveiling support from a business leader and health experts, and direct criticism of Brown and his alleged failure to front up with ratepayers on how he will carry out his promises.

Desperation, or the rollout of a careful strategy in the period of ticking and posting of the ballot papers?

Early on Tuesday morning, Collins issued a statement “humbled” by the endorsement of health professionals over his “courage, leadership, community experience, and corporate know-how to get the job done”. 

He reminded media, and the public, that in the past week he’s unveiled support from “businessman Phillip Mills, founder of Pure Advantage and Les Mills International; as well as endorsements last week by former Waitakere City mayor Sir Bob Harvey, film-maker David Farrier, comedian Guy Williams and former National MP Tau Henare”.

A mixed list, perhaps, but no real surprises, either, with most from Collins’ worldview. The backing from the council’s Independent Māori Statutory Board member Henare was explicit on Twitter, noting there was a way to vote “brown” in the poll, by ticking Collins’ name.

Collins’ camp will have been somewhat perplexed last week by the Curia poll, which showed its candidate’s support in West Auckland to be particularly low behind Brown, despite the west being a stronghold in national elections for Labour. New Lynn, Kelston, Mt Roskill and Te Atatū had large party vote victories for Labour just two years ago.

Labour won one of the two Waitakere ward councillor elections at the last local poll, with Shane Henderson joining centre right councillor Linda Cooper.  

The other element of the poll that would have been confronting was Brown taking all the votes of the group surveyed aged 65-plus by Curia. Collins had a zero next to his name from that cohort.

Brown is of that camp, 76, a businessman and former mayor, and a man of his era. Collins is 48, a Pasifika father of two young children, with a background in academic and community work.

Whether the West Auckland grandee Sir Bob Harvey’s endorsement for his party’s favoured candidate is a big enough boost in the westie and ageing demographics is tempered somewhat by Harvey’s previous attendance at Brown’s campaign launch and his ambivalent quote to the NZ Herald about Brown that he “sees his value”.

Philip Mills, of Les Mills fame, gave a more full-throated backing to Collins, as a business figure wheeled out to challenge the narrative that Brown should have that voting base locked up.

Collins’ media statement announcing Mills’ backing was headed: “Leading Businessman Endorses Efeso Collins, Says Wayne Brown Left Far North in ‘State of Chaos’.”

Mills compared the two leading candidates thus: “Collins represents the best of the future of Auckland. He is committed to tackling climate change, has produced ambitious policy on boosting public transport, and would be a mayor Auckland could be proud of.

“As an environmentalist I am appalled at the prospect of Wayne Brown running our biggest city – he appears to me to be well known in the Far North for his advocacy of his own interests while in mayoral office.”

The drip-feed of political, media and environmentalist backing has been supplemented by the release of running four-week results from the Labour Party pollster Talbot-Mills showing Collins marginally ahead, despite the latest week polling by others showing Brown widening the gap. 

The release of those polling numbers has been met with derision from Brown’s camp, with adviser and PR man Ben Thomas tweeting that a four-week average of voters’ responses is meaningless at this point in the campaign, and labelling Collins’ team’s use of them as dishonest.

In a way, the release of the four-week numbers tends to emphasise the fact that Collins had had a lead that in the latest weeks is falling away. If his camp showed a trendline week by week it would likely not be pretty reading.

On the Q&A poll result, Collins talked of “see-sawing” results (although right now the see-saw has Brown happily on the high seat), and vowed to work around the clock to win voters over.

Second place has Collins hitting upwards at Brown, no longer able to cruise above him.

On Tuesday morning, in a statement on improving public safety in the city, Collins used Brown’s ownership of an Ōtāhuhu bar with pokies to lash him on harm to the community.

Collins pledged to ensure “by-laws are strictly enforced on the liquor outlets, dive bars and pokie establishments which are a central driver in all this”.

“My opponent owns one of these bars in Ōtāhuhu and while I won’t comment on this venue in particular, as a resident of Ōtāhuhu I see every day the harm pokie bars, taverns and off-licences cause. And as mayor I will make sure these outlets are being properly monitored so they aren’t fostering more alcohol-related crimes.”

On Saturday, Collins mocked Brown’s lack of detail on transport policies. “It’s simply not good enough that Wayne Brown could not name any costing for his sole policy of installing transponders for traffic lights, and confirms to voters that he really has no plan to make Auckland a better place.”

Brown, meanwhile, looks like a candidate satisfied that, with the exit of two rivals from the centre right in Leo Molloy and Viv Beck, he can hold his polling momentum without too much need to attack anyone.

The last item of ‘News’ on his Fix Auckland campaign website was posted on August 29, when he introduced himself to voters. 

* One major debate is scheduled this week, at Remuera’s Somervell Presbyterian church on Wednesday night.

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

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