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.