Week in Review

The man making Tamihere look orthodox

Auckland mayor Phil Goff spent the final public debate of his campaign for re-election sandwiched between his highest-profile challenger John Tamihere and a man who makes the highly-unorthodox Tamihere look like a confirmed member of the Establishment.

Goff didn't quite wince, but his resting expression was strained, pained even, as those on either side spoke. For once, Tamihere wasn't the most out-there presence on the stage.

The wildcard in this debate was candidate Craig Lord, a former engineer and radio broadcaster who has talked himself into a grudging recognition as the third force in this mayoral race. His pitch on the night seemed to be that of a fast-talking, self-confident, snark-free, everyman offering simplistic solutions.

Lord is on Aucklanders' voting papers right now as one of 21 in the field. He bristles if he isn't treated like the obvious two frontrunners. He refers to Goff as "the outgoing mayor", and himself as "an absolute nobody".

He's entered this race with "no policies - I've got goals, dreams and solutions". He did so after being "disillusioned and degraded" by how he had been treated by Auckland Council.

"I thought to myself: 'It's time someone normal - one of you - put their hand up'," he told the debate organised by the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance at Greenlane's Jack Dickey Hall.

His life experience (engineering and broadcasting) gave him two obvious qualifications for being mayor - fixing things and communicating. "I'm not a CEO, not a university graduate with multiple letters after my name. I'm a guy who worked with machines."

Throughout the debate, the 47-year-old Lord cut a mercurial figure, grabbing the audience's attention with a mix of flamboyance and down-home practicality. While Tamihere has proposed a double-decker replacement for the Auckland Harbour Bridge, Lord is talking up a monorail the length of the city - citing one in Brazil called 'Whoosh' which sits high on poles and travels at high speed.

This, he said, would be far better than a light rail project down Dominion Rd to Mt Roskill and on to the airport. "No to the slow tram. There are other better, cheaper options air-powered above ground which could have docking stations attached to carparking buildings."

His mantra for a Lord mayoralty seems to be to "remove the niceties and focus on the necessities," and he would stop "temporary elected custodians" from selling off public property.

He revelled in being an unreconstructed ordinary bloke. When the candidates were asked how long ago they'd taken public transport, Lord said it was "years and years ago to a rugby game" and that was "because I actually like to get somewhere on time".

He wasn't without support in the hall, some of his pithily-delivered views roundly clapped by sections of the 120, mainly older, ratepayer types watching on. He twice welcomed the news Auckland Council's design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid had announced his departure from the role on Tuesday, ending what Lord saw as a mission to "constrict traffic on purpose".

Tamihere, who does have a degree, is a CEO and has long been a politician, had made Campbell-Reid a target on both his website and at the stump throughout this campaign, talking of the "war on motorists". In meetings across the city, he has won applause for his promise to sack the board of Auckland Transport, an organisation that had gone "on steroids to make war on the motor vehicle".

While he had competition for the blue-sky idea and shoot-from-the-hip comment, Tamihere didn't shrink into the background.

(You couldn't miss him on arrival or departure - speakers on a big red campaign truck parked outside belted out a campaign song by Howie Morrison "Stand up and vote JT". That truck will be all over the city for the next 10 days spreading its campaign earworm.)

Inside, he again defended his use of the term 'Sieg Heil' against Goff at an earlier debate. "I did not call him a Nazi," he said in response to a texted question from Bev on the North Shore, saying he had been deliberately challenging Goff's dictatorial decision to shut down free speech from visiting Canadian speakers. Tamihere's uncles had fought in World War II and "I've got a right to my freedom of expression won by them against Nazi Germany".

Another questioner, Jo, asked what confidence he had in his two-tier harbour bridge plan. Tamihere said: "Probably none. I haven't seen the business case." But he reckoned he was doing his duty as a candidate, without the resources of the Council behind him, to propose solutions.

In this debate and one the night before in Kohimarama, Tamihere won claps and cheers for his attacks on Auckland Transport and for his promise to freeze rates, including his attacks on Goff for a cumulative 9 percent rise over the past three years coupled with "stealth taxes" on fuel, for clean waters and for the environment.  

This being the ratepayers' alliance, there wasn't a lot of affection for the incumbent. But Goff's political career as an MP, Leader of the Opposition and Mayor means he sees a hostile crowd coming and he stood his ground, calling out the jeerers and interjectors and staunchly backing things like the light rail project and his 3.5 percent average general rate increase for the next term.

It's been a long campaign of around two dozen public debates with Tamihere, a few of which involved Lord and some featuring other contenders from the field of 21. 

He was out of step with Tamihere and Lord on light rail, the future of Chamberlain Park golf course (they both want it preserved as is), cycleways and active transport, the rates increases, money being spent in the CBD and on public art, salaries of council executives and on the efficiency of the council organisation. Basically, he had to play defence for large parts of the night.

Goff sent a few shots back at opponents in the crowd. On his claim the 3.5 percent rise would be the lowest increases of any significant city in the country, he challenged: "The doubters need to put up or shut up on that."

To a baying section of the crowd when he said no further rates were planned - but qualified that with an "unless something comes up" - Goff retorted: "What do you expect folks, if we have massive flood across the city - of course we would."

Later, to interjections when he spoke about the council's audit processes, Goff shot back: "If you do not want to hear the answer, I'm not sure what you're doing here." 

Goff closed by extolling the virtues of his thrift and savings in the mayoral office.

Tamihere was alive to any positive reaction to Lord from this audience, summing up by saying: "Any vote for anyone other than me is a vote for Goff."

And Lord was careful not to over-promise. "I just want to get in there and do a simple job, like you would."

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