Oakland mayoral candidate Ephesus Collins: “This campaign breaks my heart.” Photo/Greg Bowker
On Saturday, I was in Pukekohe talking to people about the city council’s plans to develop the city center. This is controversial. Tears have flowed down. The saliva had already flown out in anger.
but they are there, members
Members of the local council, as well as staff from council agency Eke Panuku and Auckland Transport. Answer questions, hand out flyers, and explain the displays installed in the three kiosks they set up around town. and accept feedback.
Democratic action is a big, slow process. In Pukekohe, it comes with street engagement in winter showers, 30,000 flyers, public meetings and a large online consultation effort.
The city council wants to help the town manage the massive growth happening around it. Officials made mistakes along the way, and they know it; now they’re keen to rectify that.
Board member Logan Soole was present. He’s 22 years old and running for re-election because he ran as 19 three years ago and knows he can make a difference. He believed in what they were doing and how they did it, and the smile on his face would never go away.
Hundreds of people are running for Auckland City Council this year, with 65 running for 20 borough council positions, up from 54 in the last election. Together with the mayor, the winner will form the governing body of the council.
All the wards have competition; last time, Franklin’s Bill Cashmore and Rodney’s Greg Sayers were left unopposed. Cashmore is going to retire this time, but Sayers is not, and now he faces four opponents.
A similar situation exists for local councils that sit under the governing body: almost everywhere there is a large number of candidates.
This is awesome. Nationally, some councils have attracted few candidates, but in Auckland the process is booming.
Most candidates, it is reasonable to assume, genuinely want to represent their community. Some of them will want to move up to the governing body and they know that learning the ropes at the local level is a great way to do that.
It’s not the only way, but it works. Most current constituency councillors start on local councils.
This election, with Cashmore retiring, former All Black Keven Mealamu is standing for the Franklin ward, having been elected to the Papakura board in 2019. He’s up against Andy Baker, who’s been on the Franklin board since 2010 and is currently its chair.
Both are known for their community engagement and commitment: Franklin voters have been blessed with competition from genuinely worthy candidates.
There are also 23 people representing the mayor, and frankly, I have a problem. Why is the top job, where almost everyone has to know they can’t win, instead of committing to mahi at the local level?
Last week, the city council agreed to a plan with a major impact on spending and behavior: a 64 percent reduction in transportation emissions by 2030. But even some of the frontrunners seem very uninterested. Efeso Collins is the only leading candidate who even thinks climate change should be a problem.
Others, when they came to the meeting, just couldn’t wipe the scowl from their faces. They ditch slogans and clichés as if they were just there to complain. Where is the understanding of the complexities of the democratic process? Where is the infectious enthusiasm? On both counts, Logan Soole can teach them a thing or two.
Few mayoral candidates have even shown interest in how the council works.
I have attended many council meetings and community events organised by the council. For that matter, I’ve never met Craig Lord, a two-term mayoral candidate, in either of them, or Ted Johnston or Wayne Brown. Maybe they’ll come to the meeting I missed. I think it’s possible.
But parliamentary meetings have public comment sessions and are valuable windows into how MPs and parliamentary staff treat citizens. They reveal how MPs collaborate, influence each other, understand issues, and possess the personal and political skills to achieve results.
You might think that a future mayor looking to sort wheat from the chaff around the council table would find it useful to know these things.
Three reasons people support the mayor. One is that they have the experience to know how things work, and they think they have a reasonable chance of winning. Viv Beck, Efeso Collins and Wayne Brown are the only three candidates in the group.
Some candidates have another agenda. Ted Johnston, co-leader of the far-right New Conservative Party, is using the campaign to boost his profile ahead of next year’s general election.
His party’s plans are nasty, but the tactic of running for mayor is perfectly legitimate. Chloe Swarbrick ran for mayor in 2016, not expecting to win, but instead advocated for progressive policies. In the process, she established a valuable image for herself.
But there’s a third group: narcissists. Craig Lord has no bigger agenda. In this election, as last time, he’s just running for mayor because he thinks he’ll be good at it.
He didn’t know how Parliament worked, he said so himself. “We don’t know what we’ll find until we open it up and take a closer look,” he told the candidate meeting repeatedly.
What? Council matters, including the work of governing bodies and their committees, CCOs and local committees, are on the public record. They must be: this is a legal process. Their budgets and expenditures can be separated in detail. Most of their meetings are public. They are subject to the Official Information Act.
Lord’s main problem appears to be getting councils to adopt better procurement processes for contract work, but he doesn’t seem to notice the “smart procurement” scheme they already have.
From time to time I hear Lord and Ted Johnston complain that they are not being taken seriously. That’s why. I don’t believe they will take parliament seriously. If they really want to make a difference, why don’t they stand where they might win and climb up?
Hundreds of people are doing it. They definitely deserve to be taken seriously.
I interviewed Efeso Collins at a public meeting on Sunday night and I ended up asking him if he had anything else to say?
he said yes. Then he stood up and said he might be in tears, but he’d say it anyway.
He told the audience, “I’m sick of being called a coconut,” which, in case you didn’t realize, is a New Zealand variant of an American abused term few would ever dream of using. He said his abuse was relentless, especially in the north of the city.
He talked about having to explain racial hatred to his children. Explain what it means when someone draws a swastika on your father’s face on a poster. He cried.
“It’s so hard,” he said. “This movement broke me down. You try to get brown.”
In my opinion, being mayor means taking racism seriously. Yes, infrastructure is critical. The same goes for the debate over housing, transportation and rates. But the cultural and social fabric of the city is just as important.
“This is my city too,” Collins said. “People like me have the right to do that.”
This is apparently true. But it’s not just “people like me” that should stick. We should all. Other candidates should: Political leaders can’t pretend it’s someone else’s problem. It’s all ours.
Democracy in action, like Pukekohe’s community engagement. This is not “use a match card”. It’s calling out racism.