The top job

New Dunedin mayor Aaron Hawkins with his wife Anya Sinclair at their Port Chalmers home. Photo:...
New Dunedin mayor Aaron Hawkins with his wife Anya Sinclair at their Port Chalmers home. Photo: PETER MCINTOSH
Bruce Munro takes Aaron Hawkins for a ride to find out what makes the mayor-elect tick and  get a feel for what it will be like living in Dunedin under his youthful leadership.

Pulling left out of the Otago Daily Times car park on lower Stuart St, in order to cut across in front of the Dunedin Railway Station to access Anzac Ave, it was tempting to glance sideways at the man in the passenger seat and try to imagine him wearing mayoral chains.

Not easy, glancing while driving and clutching a digital audio recorder. Not easy, either, imagining that this 35-year-old with his goofy-handsome, boyish face beneath a thick covering of salt-and-pepper hair - Dunedin's youngest mayor-elect in more than a centuryand Australasia's first Green-mandated mayor - is poised to lead a city of more than 130,000 people, oversee a city that is the largest in land area of all New Zealand municipalities barring Auckland's super city, and sit at the head of a local government body responsible for $3.5 billion in assets and $277 million in annual expenditure.

If it is hard to imagine for onlookers, how does it feel to actually be that person?

"It feels like drinking out of a fire hose, at the moment,'' Aaron Hawkins says with candour and a smile.

Addressing an anti-TPPA rally in the Octagon in 2014. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Addressing an anti-TPPA rally in the Octagon in 2014. PHOTO: ODT FILES
He has had his first glimpse of what the mayor's schedule looks like. Hawkins may have been a city councillor for the past six years, but it was still eye-opening.

"It's one thing to know you'll be busy all the time and you'll be inundated with requests. It's quite another to see them printed out and stacked up on your desk.

"I've never had a job where I've had an executive assistant. Simple things like opening your diary and finding a bunch of things in there that you didn't put there is quite, quite ... different.''

That executive assistant is Monique Elleboode, who has served the past three Dunedin mayors. A comment about Elleboode's fluent te reo phone greetings elicits the admission from Hawkins that he is "embarrassingly mono-lingual''.

He did try to enrol in te reo lessons this year, but the class was already full.

"It's certainly something that should be encouraged. And not just the language but also tikanga.''

The relationship between the city council and local Maori is important, he says, "to make sure we have meaningful input from mana whenua.''

Driving past the Ravensbourne Yacht Club, entering Hawkins' West Harbour domain, the next obvious question is, "How confident were you of being elected mayor?''

"I wasn't.''

At the start of campaigning, he was not sure voters would pick a candidate to continue the direction pursued by former mayor Dave Cull, who endorsed Hawkins and Christine Garey as his successor. But five or six weeks of door-knocking to canvas opinion left Hawkins "surprised at how little negative push-back there was''.

By election day, he was confident the city would get a good mayor but not certain it would be him.

From left: Aaron Hawkins with comedian Josh Thomson and (obscured) Hugh Harlow, after winning a...
From left: Aaron Hawkins with comedian Josh Thomson and (obscured) Hugh Harlow, after winning a comedy competition at the University of Otago in 2002. PHOTO: ODT FILES

Dunedin has been Hawkins' home since he shifted here for university study, in 2002.

Born in Invercargill, the youngest of two brothers - a third brother died before Hawkins was born - he was raised in small, mostly rural settlements skirting the city until the family shifted back to town when he was about 10.

His parents, both teachers, were "committed public servants who cared very deeply about the wellbeing of their communities''.

"We grew up in a very active political environment. My earliest political memory is of my father making placards to rally against the Employment Contracts Act, in 1991.

"I followed parliamentary politics from what some might say was an unhealthily early age; taking Tom Scott cartoons to show-and-tell at school.''

Hawkins' father Kerry Hawkins is principal of Waverley Park primary school, in Invercargill. The news of his son's election is "still quite surreal''.

"I intend to spend the next year avoiding situations where I might have to call him `Your Worship','' he says with a chuckle.

His son was always a capable debater with "a fair old brain between his ears'' who "gives it everything he's got''.

"Even as a kid he would stick to his guns,'' Hawkins Sen recalls.

Kerry Hawkins says his son Aaron has always been someone who would "stick to his guns''. PHOTO:...
Kerry Hawkins says his son Aaron has always been someone who would "stick to his guns''. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
About to start primary school, Hawkins took a shine to a family friend's dreadlocks and wanted to grow his own. The parental compromise was a glorified rat's tail and Rastafarian beads.

A few months later, Hawkins Sen asked his son whether other children at school teased him.

Yes, Hawkins said.

"How do you feel about that?'' his father asked.

"They'll grow out of it,'' the 5-year-old replied.

Dad has noticed a growing maturity in his son.

"When he was younger, he didn't suffer fools gladly. There was a barbwire edge on his tongue sometimes.

"From what I can see, he's learned to temper that in public.''

Dudley Benson says his friend Aaron Hawkins has a sharp intellect and has grown in empathy in...
Dudley Benson says his friend Aaron Hawkins has a sharp intellect and has grown in empathy in recent years. PHOTO: CHARLY WALSH
A SIMILAR comment is made by Dunedin musician Dudley Benson.

Hawkins and Benson met in 2010 and have become good friends.

"In the last three to four years ... he's developed the empathetic side of his personality quite a lot.''

Benson says Hawkins is an intelligent, humorous, ambitious person.

"He's an excellent listener ... He takes on board people's opinions and adjusts his own, based on learning.''

The final three years of Hawkins' secondary education were spent at the Invercargill Catholic secondary school Verdon College, mainly because it had a strong music department.

"Teenage years are difficult at the best of times. The music community was a pretty key part of my life staying on track.''

The singing and acting continued at the University of Otago, where Hawkins took theatre and performance papers as part of a film and media studies degree.

Before leaving Invercargill, he was advised by teacher Clark Boswell to audition for the University Capping Show.

"It was probably the best career advice I ever got.''

Through the Capping Show he met people, got work and developed skills that have all contributed towards his political career.

"I can draw a direct line from that conversation to this conversation [as mayor-elect].''

He never ran for political office on campus but, through his work at the student newspaper Critic and the student radio station Radio One, maintained and expressed his interest in politics.

"If I think about it, it was inevitable that at some point this [standing for office] would be something that I would be interested in doing. Though I would never have anticipated it happening this early.''

The young mayoral candidate in 2010 at his day job as a Radio  One host. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The young mayoral candidate in 2010 at his day job as a Radio One host. PHOTO: ODT FILES

By 2010, Hawkins had decided he was sick of complaining about the how the city was run. He decided to stand for the mayoralty.

While he was not elected mayor, and did not even quite make it on to council, "it showed me ... how critical local government is in terms of the broader wellbeing of the community.''

The die was cast.

Reaching Port Chalmers, Hawkins gives directions to his place in a modest, elevated corner of town.

The house is a large, rambling, doer-upper villa with plenty of lovely, roomy spaces and a homely, arty feel. It has been home for Hawkins and his artist wife Anya Sinclair (41) since the birth of their son Emile, in 2016.

Introductions include Bridget, an affectionate retired racing greyhound.

How will the city council, with four newly elected members, function under his leadership?

"I think the election result shows the community is broadly supportive of the direction the city and the council are heading,'' he says.

"I think my leadership style is collaborative. Having different and divergent views around the council table is healthy. It is important those views are presented and heard in a way that is collegial and constructive.''

Hawkins is a strong advocate of local government's collaborative approach, compared with the oppositional party politics of central government.

"You don't have to wait six to nine years screaming into the void, waiting for your turn to do something.

"Anyone can turn up on any given day and propose something and get seven other people to support you ... and make it a reality.''

With lawyer Anne Stevens and fellow councillor David Benson-Pope, campaigning to save the Dunedin...
With lawyer Anne Stevens and fellow councillor David Benson-Pope, campaigning to save the Dunedin Court House in 2015. PHOTO: ODT FILES

HAWKINS has voted for the Green Party since he has been old enough to vote. He joined the party in 2010. In the 2013 local government election, he stood as a Green candidate.

Does that bring some of the negative central government party politics to the council table?

He does not believe so. He says he has always been open about his views and values. Green Party allegiance is just shorthand for that, he says.

"Everyone has a world view and a history and personal perspective and an ideology that informs and guides their decision-making. Some of us are keener to articulate that than others.''

The new mayor celebrates with his wife Anya Sinclair and son Emile Hawkins (3). PHOTO: CHRISTINE...
The new mayor celebrates with his wife Anya Sinclair and son Emile Hawkins (3). PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
Hawkins sees his mayoralty as building on Dave Cull's momentum.

Dunedin needs to become a zero carbon city that looks after its people, he says.

"That means making sure people have equal access to everything this city has to offer; that people have healthy, affordable housing; ultimately public transport should be free, and it absolutely needs to be cheaper ... and that the city continues to be outward-looking because we can't fix these things by ourselves.''

An ODT photographer knocks at the door and is greeted by Sinclair while Hawkins ducks off to shave.

How is Sinclair taking Hawkins' win and her sudden elevation to mayor's wife?

"I'm still quite stunned.''

She had not allowed herself to imagine he would win the mayoral race.

"It's really exciting that Dunedin can see his potential and can see that he has vision.''

At the election celebration on Saturday night, Dave Cull's wife Joan took Sinclair aside for a "pep talk''.

"She said, decide right from the start how much involvement you want to have and don't feel pressured if you want to be more private.''

How does Sinclair think Hawkins will go as mayor?

"Amazingly. I think he's got untapped talent. I think he will be a great leader. He has a conscience. And passion. And, contrary to what some people say, he's a very kind man.''

Photos are taken in the lounge and in the overgrown back yard. The photographer also wants a shot of Hawkins, known for his hitchhiking, with his thumb out on the edge of the state highway.

That done, the drive back to town commences.

With Wildlife Hospital Dunedin Trust board chairman Steve Walker before running the 15.5km...
With Wildlife Hospital Dunedin Trust board chairman Steve Walker before running the 15.5km Papatowai Challenge as a fundraiser earlier this year. PHOTO: ODT FILES

Hawkins had got as far as gaining his learner driver's licence when, in 2016, he, Sinclair and their son were involved in a near-fatal car accident. It took the wind out of his car-driving sails.

"This job may force me to reconsider. We'll have to see how we go.''

Are national-level politics in your future?

Hawkins laughs.

"No, well, no ... How do I answer that?''

Some people have assumed that is his goal. But his focus is on the strong, progressive local government he believes is needed to "support the ambitions that our current central government has''.

"Never say never. But the idea of leaving first thing on a Monday morning and getting home last thing on a Thursday night, with a young family, holds very little appeal to me.''

At the launch of a draft Dunedin arts and culture strategy at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in...
At the launch of a draft Dunedin arts and culture strategy at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2014 with Cr Jinty MacTavish and Transforming Dunedin member Pip Laufiso. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Work-life balance is something with which he already struggles, his biggest personal challenge.

"Not just the public's expectations, but my own personal expectations of doing the job, [and balancing that] with my family life.''

It is difficult because he feels a duty, as a publicly elected representative, to be responsive to the community.

"But I think maybe my expectations of myself are greater than what others' might be of me. It is something that, particularly from this point, I'm going to have to be mindful of.

"We are lucky that we have family here and a strong network of friends.

"But there's no substitute for an absent father.''

Approaching the Octagon and the council offices, where the mayor-elect is about to begin meetings that will determine who the deputy mayor is and which councillors chair which committees, Hawkins expresses what he believes is the crucial issue facing the city council.

"The biggest challenge for Dunedin, and therefore for the council, will be dealing with challenges of growth in an unstable climate.

"We know that the effects of climate change in particular are disproportionately felt by people who are less capable of absorbing them and ... have often played the least part in creating the problem.

"The social and environmental wellbeing of our community has to be our top priority. Everything else we do are tools for achieving that.''

bruce.munro@odt.co.nz

PHOTO: ODT FILES
PHOTO: ODT FILES

Plans for the future

So what will mayor-elect Aaron Hawkins do?

Q About the challenges of population growth?

We need to find solutions to our growing pains that contribute to our goals around social and environmental wellbeing.

Q About climate change?

Building a more resilient city, through investing in infrastructure and people, at the same time as we transition to becoming a zero carbon city.

Q About traffic congestion?

Make the alternatives to driving more attractive to those who can use them, which means cheaper bus fares and safer cycling and walking.

Q About housing?

More public housing, because it's renters on lower incomes who are feeling the squeeze the most.

Q About economic development?

It's very important for the city to have close links between the council and the business community. The city is growing at the moment, with significant projects still on the horizon. We set an ambitious target of 10,000 new jobs over ten years in the city's economic development strategy, and that's on track.

Q About infrastructure renewal?

We have an ambitious programme of renewals in the current 10-year budget, but will need to consider accelerating or expanding that through the next Long Term Plan.

Q About debt?

I'm comfortable with the current debt limits, especially when we're investing in infrastructure that will last us another 50-plus years.

Q About rates rises?

Doing what needs to be done will be challenging within the current financial strategy, but we have to have that conversation when it's reviewed again next year.

Q About the bridge to nowhere and harbourside development?

A lot hinges on the glacial decision-making of the Provincial Growth Fund, but the role of council is to provide the infrastructure for private development to build on.

Q About the hospital rebuild?

The hospital rebuild in the CBD is a significant project for the city, and we need to manage the disruption it will cause as best we can for what will be a great asset.

 

Dave Cull
Dave Cull

Sukhi Turner
Sukhi Turner

Mayoral mantle:

Former Dunedin mayors Sukhi Turner and Dave Cull share some tips on taking the top job.

Q What does the mayor need to do during the first 100 days?

Sukhi Turner: Establish a team he can work with.

Dave Cull: In conjunction with the chief executive and management team, start building a governance team and make sure that everyone understands the council's strategy and policy positions.

Q How does the mayor go about choosing a deputy mayor and committee chairmen?

Sukhi Turner: Pick a deputy mayor who is a trusted colleague (not a bosom friend), who will complement his skills and perspective. Consult with the elected councillors regarding their interest in various committees and choose chairs and deputies who have the relevant skills. Avoid personal bias.

Dave Cull: The deputy mayor needs to share your values. You may not get everything from one person, but you want someone you can take into your confidence and who can represent the city well in your absence. Find out the interests and experience of individual councillors and match them to the various committees and roles.

Q How quickly does the bubble burst with the realisation you have little power?

Sukhi Turner: Aaron has been in council for two terms, so he should know the ropes. The mayoral role does not have intrinsic power, but the position is still respected and has influence.

Dave Cull: If you've been a councillor before you should already know that.

Q What's the biggest adjustment a new mayor will have to make?

Sukhi Turner: Time on the job and being able to multi-task. I would not recommend the latter, as it is proven that even women are unable to do this. The variety of things one does as mayor is mind-boggling, but exciting and satisfying.

Dave Cull: Appreciating that you don't have to be an expert on everything but you have to have some grip on every part of the council's job. And realising that media will contact you 24/7.

Q What's one key piece of advice you wish you'd been given as a new mayor?

Sukhi Turner: Always tell the truth, don't fudge and remember not to take the built-in entrenched orthodoxy of Dunedin personally. Always remember there are thousands of people in Dunedin with loads of good will and sense.

Dave Cull: Don't answer the phone, wait until a message is left. If a message isn't left, you can be assured it wasn't important. If a message is left, it gives you a chance to prepare a response that offers better value than if it was off the cuff.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

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It sounds more like Hawkins took Munro for the ride! “Goofy-handsome, boyish face”? That’s what passes for journalism these days? No wonder the print media is dying! The only thing the article points out is: (1) the apathy of Dunedin voters, (2) STV has placed $3.5 billion of ratepayer’s assets into the hands of someone with little to no qualifications to manage them. Hawkins has no real experience at working. Working at the student newspaper and hosting radio one can’t really be considered a job nor can the time spent as a counselor for DCC. Even if they were, hardly qualifications to be mayor. Not surprising, Hawkins thinks the election results show “broad support over the direction of the city and council”. Really? These comments show he’s out of touch with the people! Work the STV numbers published by ODT backwards to ascertain the raw vote before the re-allocation of votes for a non-viable candidate. Hawkins lost the popular vote by approximately 1.7%. STV gave the city of Dunedin a winner but not the winner. Using the STV, Hawkins won roughly 12% of the total population, hardly a mandate! The election results show the people don’t trust the politicians nor the process.

So here is the start of many articles trying to soften up the people of Dunedin towards this guy, eg "35-year-old with his goofy-handsome, boyish face beneath a thick covering of salt-and-pepper hair".
"I think the election result shows the community is broadly supportive of the direction the city and the council are heading,'', Rubbish, the people were highly critical of the direction the city was heading in and it's last mayor.
"I think my leadership style is collaborative. Having different and divergent views around the council table is healthy", Really?, then why was one councilor effectively excluded from your little clic?, "Avoid personal bias", hasn't happened in this case has it.
"But the idea of leaving first thing on a Monday morning and getting home last thing on a Thursday night, with a young family, holds very little appeal to me.'', Then why did you take the job?, give it to someone who wants to do it.
Did this perpetual student ever run a company or was a plumber or builder eg work history or was it only ever "singing and acting"?.

What a repulsive piece of propaganda! After reading” goofy-handsome, boyish face beneath a thick covering of salt-and-pepper hair” I felt nauseous. I wasn’t sure if Munro was writing a love letter or doing a serious profile on Hawkins. Totally agree, ODT standards continue to slip and rubbish reporting like this highlights the decline of the print media.

Sure sounds like the ODT has some gross favoritism for our new Mayor. Would not expect any serious, unbiased reporting by the ODT on the Mayor or DCC in the future!. Reporting like this is the reason people don't vote. Name one thing that Hawkins has done in the last 6 years...just one thing? In a couple of years when Hawkins is up for re-election, ask yourself the same question? Hopefully, Mayor is just a stepping stone for Hawkins!

he maybe late meetings as he hitch hikes ...... every where

I am so disappointed with Hawkins non answers. That he has no actual plan for climate change or population growth. I am interested how he wishes to achieve a zero carbon city. One sentence answers are just wasting my time and it’s now obvious why Hawkins lost popular vote and only received 12% of the population vote. This reflects terribly on both the ODT and Hawkins as neither can be considered a viable source for information. Hawkins sat on the old majors Taskforce for Housing, nice to advocate for more public housing, does this mean the DCC will be increasing investment or just leaving the issue to national government? Raising rates, seems from his answer, was a reluctant yes, but what specifically is the extra money need for, and what would we go without if we didn’t raise rates? So sad....
At the very least he could detail his plan to make buses cheaper, but I get the impression he hasn’t actually got one as he only expressed a idea, but not a policy. He keeps talking about aims, in broad terms that would fit the aims of any community (Building a more resilient city, through investing in infrastructure and people, goals around social and environmental wellbeing).

Give Mayor Hawkins a chance! All mayors have to learn on the job. They get plenty of advice from the CE and senior staff. Being a Mayor is entirely different from being a Councillor. I am interested to see what kind of meeting chair Mayor Hawkins will be and how much he will allow all councillors to speak. It's easy enough to shut someone up by declaring that they are going off topic. Sometimes digressions are justifiable to make the point. In the past, IMO some Councillors were allowed very wide ranging digressions and others, especially Cr Vandervis, virtually none. I'm hoping that this triennium there will be one standard for all.

Yep. Not criticising the mayor-elect before they've even done anything in the role is very biased indeed.

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