I watched a two hour Meet the Candidates meeting so you don't have to
The Island Bay & Owhiro Bay Residents Associations held their candidates meeting for Mayor, Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Paekawakawa/Southern ward on 25 August. Here's my run-down on what happened. You can also watch the full video below. Huge thanks to the two residents associations for putting this on and making the video available.
Watching this I'm more convinced than ever that this needs to be a 'pull-no-punches' election. There's just too many unelectable and very average candidates. These people will damage the city so no apologies from me for calling some of them out. If you run for public office in the middle of housing crisis and climate crisis you're going to get scrutinised.
It's also noticeable how many candidates are motivated to run by grievance rather than a positive vision for the city. Most of those appear to have little to no understanding of how WCC actually works and are running simply because they're angry about something.
I know from my own research so far that most of the 'grievance' candidates have never actually engaged with the council - or even within their own communities - in any significant way, except maybe for the thing they're upset about. Which is not a great place from which to build a campaign. For example, it doesn't look good to be complaining about rates, or a lack of planning, or a lack of consultation when you never made a submission during the council's Long Term Plan process i.e. the consultation on the plan that determines what our rates will be.
Except for Te Whanganui-a-Tara I'd say there's also a really dangerous under-representation of younger voices i.e. the people who will actually inherit the city. It's entirely predictable but it's generally the older generation who seem most upset about 'things' and 'things changing'.
The overall standard of the truly independent candidates (i.e. not party affiliated or party endorsed) is pretty terrible. After watching this I think party tickets are going to be more valuable than ever. At least they provide some confidence around vetting and policy commitments.
Far too many candidates are also leaning on "I'll listen to the community" tropes which is a big fat con. It relies on a belief that the community is largely homogeneous that tells you something about their own world-view. More candidates should talk about what their values are and let us vote on those.
The Mayoral candidates from left to right, Paul Eagle, Tory Whanau, Ray Chung, Barbara McKenzie, Chris Dudfield, Ellen Blake, Don McDonald, Andy Foster, Kelvin Hastie
Ok, let's talk about the Mayoral candidates. Barbara McKenzie should be glad she's banned from the VUWSA debate because it can really only increase her chances. Not only does she hold terrible views but she is just a bad candidate. This was an awful, stuttering, unconvincing performance. AVOID
Ray Chung also came across really badly. His platform is reactionary enough without also coming across as the least competent and least charismatic member of your local residents association. He made a very big deal of having been to 46 countries as if that matters. He simply hasn't got what it takes to be a councillor let alone Mayor. AVOID
Chris Dudfield and Kelvin Hastie were both rude, arrogant and entitled. Both of them complaining about rates and what a terrible job WCC's doing before putting forward ridiculously extravagant pet projects of their own. We've suffered too many of this type of man in local government in the past. AVOID
I thought Ellen Blake came across well in the meeting. The fact that she knows how council works and is a legit community advocate/organiser type shone through. Not sure she can beat out the big 3 for Mayor though. And as a long-standing member of the Mount Victoria Residents Association there are some concerns about her being against increasing housing density, including opposing this award-winning infill development.
Of the big 3 I thought Tory Whanau did the best although she stumbled a bit talking about cycleways in front of what was probably a disproportionately negative crowd. However, as the freshest face she was the most convincing overall at selling a positive vision for Wellington and she has an advantage over the other two of not having been on the council before and not having to accept some accountability for why we're in the position we're in now
Andy Foster did ok. For all the crap he takes he spoke confidently about the council's achievements over the past 3 years, and there are some. That said, he's battling a very heavy burden of incumbency and moaning about 'politics' at the council table actually just highlights questions about his leadership of a largely progressive (and largely female) council. The fact that he has put together a rather unconvincing all-male ticket, that doesn't include any current councillors, just compounds those concerns. He's been on the council for 30 years and Mayor for three so has to accept a significant chunk of responsibility for Wellington's current woes.
Paul Eagle was just himself. Bland platitudes about listening to people, communities, master-plans and all the councillor cosplay we saw over seven years of actually doing not much except failing to stop a cycleway being built. He was very obviously trying to avoid answering any of the audience questions which is him all over. Whatever your view of Paul this probably didn't change it.
Don McDonald was also just himself but I don't want to be rude and leave him out.
Te Whanganui-a-Tara candidates Ali Hamlin-Paenga & Matthew Reweti. Nīkau Wi Neera was absent but pre-recorded his answers
It's not my place to say too much about Te Whanganui-a-Tara except they seem pretty well served for candidates. But Ali Hamlin-Paenga saying she'd ask the people of Island Bay whether light-rail should come here was silly. We're talking about billion dollar city-making infrastructure and there's already been years of consultation. Island Bay is the southern terminus of the entire Wellington north-south transport spine and generates thousands of trips per day. We need better leadership than "I'll just ask the people".
Before getting into the Paekawakawa candidates I've just got say that slamming cycleways might seem like a vote winner in front of some of these crowds but it is a total red flag and tells me that you are not a remotely serious thinker about transport issues. The case for cycleways is so strong that only an ideologue with acute car-brain would even bother attempting the mental gymnastics required to argue that it's not.
Paekawakawa candidates from left to right, Paula Muollo, Urmila Bhana, Inoke Afeaki, Laurie Foon, Nureddin Abdurahman, Ate Moala, Johnathan Coppard, Dipak Bhana, Iain MacLeod
Laurie Foon is the stand out Paekawakawa candidate by a mile. Great values, great communicator, solid achievements over the last three years. Proper councillor. Got to get her back on the council.
Nureddin Abdurahman also came across well. He's another one with proper community organiser/advocate credentials. And I've got to say the overall standard of the independents is so bad that the Green/Labour party tickets count for HEAPS here in Paekawakawa.
Of the other independents Jonathan Coppard also has good community activist credentials and came across well in front of a pretty hostile crowd. Dipak Bhana seemed like a nice guy but didn't have much to say. He's part of Andy Foster's all-male Together for Wellington ticket so seemed to running the line that 'everything is awesome'. Inoke Afeaki was going ok and seemed like a sensible person until he started complaining about cycleways.
Paula Muollo, Iain MacLeod and Urmila Bhana all came across as grievance candidates i.e. "the council's bad but I'll listen to the community and magically deliver everything everybody wants without pissing anybody off while also lowering rates". None of them appeared to have any real understanding of how the council works or any actual policies and yes, they all think cYcLeWaYs aRe bAd. Former Miss Wellington and Terry Serepisos associate Paula Muollo managed to come across like she was only running for council for a dare. Urmila Bhana was part of the court case trying to stop the Newtown to City cycleway being built and kept quoting some statistic about bikes not lowering carbon emissions that just didn't make any sense and sounded like she either didn't understand it or was being deliberately mis-leading. Iain MacLeod runs the Penthouse Cinema and in trying to convince us he can work with anybody actually said "I employ a few of those LGB, um, ah, whatever it is", managing to achieve the exact opposite. It was the cringiest comment of the night which is saying something. He's also a self-confessed NIMBY. He doesn't want development in Seatoun (where he actually lives) because it is a "higher-decile suburb with some nice facilities". You can work out for yourself what that's code for. AVOID
Chris Dudfield is also running in Paekawkawa but as previously discussed came off as a rude, arrogant and entitled. Lord, grant me the self-confidence of the middle-aged pākeha male with a grievance who is posting an NBR article on LinkedIn when he realises he was born to lead and it is his - and only his - unique mix of skills, experience and world-view that is missing from the local council table. Good grief - there's far too many of these arseholes in local government around the country already. AVOID
Speaking of the plague the final Paekawakawa candidate is Ate Moala, an anti-vax, climate-change denying, Trump supporting, homophobe and transphobe. Need I say it? AVOID
Ok, that's it. Thanks again to IBRA and OBRA for making the video available. I'm more determined than ever to keep digging into what these candidates are like across the board. Watch this space and don't forget the resources I've already published. And VOTE. And tell everyone you know to vote. Vote like your lives depend on it, because maybe they do.
Here's some resources to help with deciding who to vote for
WCC voting recommendations
**Here's the Island Bay Healthy Streets voting recommendations for the 2022 Wellington City Council elections**
WCC candidate social media
A list of all the candidates websites, Facebook pages & Twitter accounts.
WCC candidate submissions
A list of submissions made by the new candidates on 3 big WCC consultations:
WCC candidate media
A list of media stories featuring candidates (contains many red flags)
WCC candidate community
A list of candidate involvement in community organisations
How the current council voted at 2 key meetings in the last triennium plus how the new candidates say they would have voted:
The Fab 5
WCC isn't dysfunctional, it's just diverse & these are the 5 current councillors we must vote back in.
Report card Part I: how the councillors voted
Here's how the current Wellington City Council voted on some key issues (based on the WCC votes spreadsheet above).
Report card Part II: how the candidates voted
Here's how the new Wellington City Council candidates say they would have voted on some key issues (based on the WCC votes spreadsheet above).
Meet the candidates
Summary of the Island Bay & Owhiro Bay Residents Association's meet the candidates evening for Mayoral, Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Paekawakawa/Southern candidates.
We need to talk about Paul
Here's why I don't think Paul Eagle is a good candidate for Mayor and Tory Whanau should be the progressive choice to rank #1
WCC voting recommendations
Here's the Island Bay Healthy Streets voting recommendations for the 2022 Wellington City Council elections
Paekawakawa - have you voted yet?
Recommendations and scorecards to help Paekawakawa/Southern ward voters
The complete guide to the NZ local elections 2022. Find out who’s running in your area and what they stand for.
Scorecards and candidates' statements on what they think about climate action .
Vote Local by Generation Zero
Where do your local candidates stand on climate justice?
Scorecard on whether candidates will make things better or worse for renters
Updates will be regularly added...
Here's how the current Wellington City Council voted on some key issues
The Dominion Post recently published a pretty good analysis of Wellington City councillors' performance over the last 3 years that largely aligns with my Fab 5 blog highlighting the 5 progressive councillors I think we need to re-elect.
I do have a few minor quibbles with the Dom Post's piece though. Apart from Shelly Bay the voting they analysed is too consistent and doesn't reveal the key differences between councillors. Even Shelly Bay is complex and doesn't follow traditional left/right voting patterns. Also, the particular votes chosen are not always from the most interesting stage in the discussion e.g. the big votes on the Bike Network were during the Long Term Plan process where various councillors did vote against more funding at different points. I'm also really surprised the Spatial Plan/District Plan didn't get a mention. That's the headline issue of the last triennium for me and reveals some fundamental differences between councillors that voters should consider.
Unfortunately, attempts to get WCC to build a database of voting records for the current triennium failed with the council claiming (a year after they first received the request) that they "didn't have time". The council have been doing some related work in the background so I'm hopeful that we can still get a voting database up and running at the start of the new triennium. It really would be a very useful tool and create much greater transparency over council decision-making.
In the meantime, how can we get a sense of how councillors have been voting over the last 3 years without a huge amount of manual collation and analysis of voting that is scattered across hundreds of different pdf files? I decided to focus on two really significant meetings from the past 3 years that had a good volume and variety of votes within the meeting and also some really high-stakes votes for the city. That way we should be able to get a good feel for who's been voting for what to help inform where we want to put our own votes during local body elections in October.
The two meetings I chose are the final approval of the 2021-31 Long Term Plan at the Pūroro Maherehere
Annual Plan/Long Term Plan Committee on 27 May 2021 and the final approval of the Proposed District Plan for Public Notification at the Pūroro Āmua Planning & Environment Committee on 23 June 2022. Both meetings have enough juicy voting to sort the conservatives from the progressives, the NIMBYs from the YIMBYs and the climate heroes from the climate zeroes. In this spreadsheet I've collated every vote from those two meetings that wasn't purely procedural or unanimous so that you can do your own analysis and come to your own conclusions if you wish (I've ignored the unanimous votes because they don't really reveal the differences between councillors). Make sure you read the notes first though! In both cases I've only recorded the voting on the substantive motion (after amendments) and not the voting on the amendments. This is only after checking that the voting on the substantive motion was in line with any amendments made, which it almost always was.
The Fab 5 progressive councillors : Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul & Jenny Condie
Long Term Plan
The final approval of the Long Term Plan in May 2021 came at the end of a long process that had been variously described as a shambles and a dog's breakfast. As a result councillors were still being asked to vote on a whole range of changes during the meeting. Bad for them but good for us. The votes covered a wide variety of areas including:
There are ten current councillors probably running again (only one or two are yet to confirm) plus the Mayor, so let's focus on how they voted. Looking at the voting you can probably see why I identified Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jenny Condie as the progressive Fab 5. They voted almost totally in unison and almost totally in support of the initiatives listed above.
At the other end of the spectrum Nicola Young voted against everything except increasing arts funding (because she personally likes the arts) leaving even the Grinch stunned at her misanthropic miserliness. Diane Calvert also voted against a lot, including cycleways, the Pōneke Promise, funding for youth hubs/better youth engagement, increased arts funding and town centre upgrades for Berhampore and Island Bay. Not quite Nicola Young standards of austerity but still grim (imagine voting against reducing sexual violence and alcohol harm). Mayor Andy Foster supported most things but voted against increasing spending on cycleways and youth hubs/better youth engagement.
Sean Rush was absent but probably would have voted against at least some of this stuff. In his case it doesn't matter - he should be considered unelectable after he straight up lied about creating an anonymous Twitter account to troll his colleagues and post some pretty questionable content (including climate change denial and transphobia), only telling the truth after it had already been established beyond any reasonable doubt that it was him.
Key vote: Cycleways
Sarah Free and Iona Pannett also voted in support of all of the above but it has to be noted that at an earlier point in the process they both voted against increasing funding for cycleways (Option 4), meaning that the council's preferred option during consultation was to spend significantly less money (Option 3). Cycleways was the only item that the council consulted on where the public's preference (to spend more) was not the council's, and where councillors actually voted against council officers' recommendation in this meeting via an amendment. Cycleways are definitely a hot topic in Wellington and create a clear distinction between progressive and conservative so this is the key vote in the meeting for me:
Agree to adopt Option 4 rather than Option 3 for the delivery of future cycling infrastructure
For: Jenny Condie, Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Sarah Free, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul
Against: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Malcolm Sparrow, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young
Absent: Sean Rush
Majority vote: 9:5
Approving the District Plan for public notification on 23 June 2022 also came at the end of a long process of public consultation called Planning for Growth, which resulted in a new Spatial Plan and draft District Plan for Wellington. Hopes were high that the new Spatial Plan and District Plan would enable a lot more homes to be built in Wellington so that's why this meeting caused controversy by walking back much of that progress in what The Dominion Post described as "a devastating u-turn". The voting here is really on a single issue, housing, and easier to get a handle on as it was a core eight votes who did the damage. Six of those votes are thought to be running again in October; Mayor Foster and councillors Diane Calvert, Sarah Free, Iona Pannett, Sean Rush and Nicola Young. The progressive Fab 5 of Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jenny Condie all voted against watering down what had previously been agreed.
Key vote: Walking catchments
This vote reduced walking catchments (the boundaries within which six-storey buildings can be built) from 15 minutes’ walking distance around the central city and metropolitan areas to just 10 minutes, meaning there will be less land available for enabling more homes via greater density. The reduction means Wellington has taken a more conservative approach than other councils, where 15 minutes is standard. If you have hopes of ever buying a home in Wellington, or you want your children or grandchildren to be able to, these eight councillors have now made it harder. The one vote that 'flipped' from when a 15 min walking catchment from the central city was introduced into the Spatial Plan in June 2021 was Sarah Free.
Agree that the walking catchments recommended by officers, in respect of the spatial plan, to be reinstated as follows:
For: Andy Foster, Diane Calvert, Sarah Free, Liz Kelly, Iona Pannett, Sean Rush, Simon Woolf, Nicola Young
Against: Jenny Condie, Jill Day, Fleur Fitzsimons, Laurie Foon, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O'Neill, Tamatha Paul
Majority vote: 8:7
So hopefully that gives you an even greater sense of which current councillors you might want to vote for in October than the Dominion Post piece, where a lot of the voting they highlighted was actually pretty consistent from one councillor to the next.
What I plan to do in Part II of this blog is use the votes highlighted in these two meetings as the basis of a survey of new council candidates once nominations close on 12 August and then publish the results. Tools such as Policy Local are helpful but asking candidates for their policy positions allows them to play safe and take a middle-of-the-road approach that hides their true beliefs. However, asking them how they would have voted on actual motions that the current council voted on leaves no place to hide and is also a pretty handy test of their ability to read and understand council papers, just as they will be expected to do if they are elected. Watch this space!