Race for public office begins

The race for public office is officially under way after nominations for local body elections closed yesterday.

But the midday nominations deadline did not pass without the traditional last-minute rush, swelling the number of candidates standing for councils, community boards and health boards across the South.

As a result, the fight for the Dunedin mayoralty will be a nine-horse race, as eight challengers seek to unseat incumbent Mayor Dave Cull.

Another 39 candidates are vying for 14 Dunedin City Council seats spread across three city wards. However, one of the 14 is already settled after incumbent councillor Andrew Noone was yesterday declared elected unopposed in the Waikouaiti Coast-Chalmers ward.

Voters have until October 12 to decide the fate of the rest, and whether any of the contenders for Dunedin's top job deserve to unseat Mr Cull, who won by 22,832 votes to 14,453 to oust then-incumbent Peter Chin in 2010.

Mr Cull's election was helped by a wave of discontent over Forsyth Barr Stadium and council debt, but it remains to be seen whether the current crop of big issues facing the city will energise voters to the same degree.

Mr Cull's rivals this time are Cr Lee Vandervis, former Act New Zealand MP Hilary Calvert, Green Party candidate Aaron Hawkins, Olivier Lequeux, Kevin Dwyer, Andrew Whiley, Pete George and Steve McGregor.

One certainty this year is the influx of new blood around the Dunedin City Council table, as long-serving incumbent councillors Syd Brown, Neil Collins, Colin Weatherall, Bill Acklin and Fliss Butcher have opted to stand down.

Contenders range from former councillor and Dunedin South MP David Benson-Pope to Otago University Students' Association president Francisco Hernandez.

The Otago Regional Council election will have 21 incumbent and new candidates spread across four constituencies.

Among them, the fight for Dunstan is shaping as the hottest contest, with seven candidates - including the only incumbent to stand again, Gerry Eckhoff - seeking three available seats.

Elections will also be held in the Dunedin constituency, where four newcomers will challenge six incumbents for the six seats, and the Molyneux constituency, where three candidates seek two seats.

Another 21 contenders will contest seven seats on the Southern District Health Board, spread between the Otago (four seats) and Southland (three seats) constituencies.

Contenders include Richard Thomson, also an incumbent city councillor seeking re-election, who is one of five health board incumbents standing again.

Mayoral contests are also shaping up across the South, including in the Waitaki district, where two-term Mayor Alex Familton has decided not to contest the position he has held since 2007.

That leaves the door open for challengers Fliss Butcher - an outgoing DCC councillor - Waitaki deputy mayor Jim Hopkins and Gary Kircher, Greg Smith, Eric Spittal, Helen Stead and David Wilson.

In Central Otago, Mayor Tony Lepper will be challenged by former Central Otago district councillor and business co-owner Lynley Claridge, while Queenstown Mayor Vanessa van Uden will face long-time Wakatipu resident Al Angus.

In the Clutha district, deputy mayor Hamish Anderson will challenge incumbent Bryan Cadogan for the mayoralty, but Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks is elected unopposed. Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt faces two challengers to his bid to lead the city for a seventh term and become the country's longest-serving mayor.

Former police officer Lindsay Dow (65), an Invercargill city councillor for six years from 1993 to 1998, and unemployed printer Kevin Middleton (54), who has lived in the city for about seven years, are both challenging Mr Shadbolt.

Dunedin's mayoral race will also be bigger than in 2010, with the number of candidates up by two, from seven to nine, while the 39 candidates seeking council seats represent a drop from the 47 who stood in 2010.

The city's congested central ward has 35 of the 39 candidates seeking council seats in Dunedin, including Paul Hudson, the only incumbent councillor not to announce his plans in advance.

Three contenders - including incumbent councillor Kate Wilson - will vie for two seats in the Mosgiel Taieri ward, while Cr Noone is the only candidate to be nominated for the single-seat Waikouaiti Coast-Chalmers ward.

The Chalmers Community Board has 12 candidates, including five incumbents, chasing six positions.

Three other boards - Mosgiel Taieri, Strath Taieri and Waikouaiti Coast - have been elected unopposed, with just six candidates for six seats in each.

Elections will be held in the remaining two - Otago Peninsula and Saddle Hill - with seven candidates seeking six seats.

Postal voting begins on September 20 and ends at noon on October 12.

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz