Metro editor Henry Oliver makes the case for why he'll be making a boring choice when he casts his vote in this year's local body elections.
Auckland is, as it often is, at a crossroads. On 12 October, we will choose our next mayor — a stark choice between two very different candidates offering two very different approaches to governing our city, and two very different visions for our future. As seems to be increasingly common in elections around the world, the choice is between a pragmatic, buttoned-down bureaucrat and a freewheeling, loose-lipped populist.
Matthew Hooton has laid out the failings of Phil Goff’s mayoralty to date: housing in Auckland remains in crisis, in part because of a lack of action on updating Auckland’s building code and consent process (see also Shamubeel Eaqub’s ‘Generation Rent revisited’ on page 64); there’s been no progress on his plan for a second harbour crossing; rather than begin the process of moving the port and opening up the inner-city waterfront, his council has allowed the building of a five-storey car park for used imports. But perhaps worst of all, according to many of his critics — he’s boring. Grey. Invisible. Or, as Hayden Donnell reports, Goff is considered “a skilled Wellington politician who’s unused to making the compromises necessary to steer a council”, a technocrat who lacks the passion to sell his vision to his fellow baby boomers who are mad at cycleways going past their driveways and the bus stop outside their local cafe that used to be car parks.
Is the grey-haired anger over car parks and roadworks Goff’s fault? No — the mayor doesn’t control Auckland Transport — but most Aucklanders don’t know that. And, more importantly, most Aucklanders haven’t been sufficiently sold on Goff’s (and his council’s) plan to ease Auckland’s transport problems — which, incidentally, aren’t going away with the addition of more motorway lanes and more car parks. In fact, they haven’t really been sold on any of Goff’s plans. He seems to think if he has the votes in council, he doesn’t have to do much selling of anything.
So you can see John Tamihere’s appeal. “Shake it up and sort it out.” Who couldn’t find some things they want shaken up in Auckland? Who wouldn’t want whatever their particular gripe is to be sorted out? But with ideas like adding 10 lanes to the Harbour Bridge; an 0800-JACINDA hotline for citizens to report homelessness and have a 24/7 force of social workers take care of them; a three-year rates freeze; ending the regional fuel tax; halting construction on sections of the Central Rail Link; and, perhaps best of all (for me anyway), asking landlords to please not raise the rent for a bit, it’s hard to see how any of this could actually work. Tamihere is running on a platform of saying things that sound as different as possible to what the other guy is saying (and, to some extent, has been doing) and hoping for the best. But has any work been done to back any of this up? Is there any real policy or position on anything other than a few loud stabs in the dark at change in any possible form?
For some people (Hooton included), that’s good enough for their vote. Maybe Tamihere is full of shit, but, even if he is, what’s there to lose? Tamihere can’t actually do most of the radical/questionable/terrible things he’s proposing, so anything he can actually achieve will be a net win over steady-as-she-goes Goff. What could possibly go wrong?
Tamihere wants to drastically cut Auckland’s local government revenue with the promise/hope of replacing it with a combination of cost savings and an increased contribution from central government. What makes anyone think he’ll be able to get more of either than anyone else has? Is there waste at the council? I don’t doubt it. Have other mayors wanted to cut that waste to help fund their grand plans for the city? Of course! Every single one of them. What makes Tamihere think he’ll be able to find these tens-of-millions where no one else has? And why will central government bow to his demands, if they haven’t before?
I’ve never felt more boring saying this, but (not withstanding any drastic revelations in the next month or so) I’ll be voting for the boring guy. The steady hand. The continued, incremental progression. I too am disappointed there isn’t a more credible (and, to be frank, younger and more ambitious) challenger, if not to beat Goff then at least to light a fire under him. But of the candidates we do have, I just don’t think there’s anyone else up to the job. Auckland is a better city than the city it was when I moved here in 1998, and it’s on its way to becoming even better still. While frustratingly slow, there has been some progress in the last three years. We can’t afford for there not to be any in the next three. We can’t afford to lose three years to freeze, to ‘mothballing’, to shaking things up with no plan of how we’ll sort them out.
For an opposing view, you can read why Matthew Hooton was in favour of voting for John Tamihere here.
This piece originally appeared in the September-October 2019 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline "A boring endorsement".
[It feels rather strange to write this, but it should be noted that both this editorial and Matthew Hooton's column were first published before all that Nazi stuff - Ed]