Ballot box brutality

Dunedin's Green one-term mayor Aaron Hawkins felt the brutality of the ballot box at the weekend’s local government elections.

First-term councillor Jules Radich’s win was decisive, part of what Mr Hawkins described as a clear appetite for change apparent across the country, with a push against the establishment and disgruntlement with proposed government reforms including Three Waters.

In common with Dunedin counterparts, Auckland and Christchurch voters chose more right-leaning mayors in Wayne Brown and Phil Mauger than retirees Phil Goff and Lianne Dalziel. But in Wellington, former Green Party chief of staff Tory Whanau bucked that trend by trouncing another first-term mayor and experienced councillor, Andy Foster.

Mr Hawkins, who had served on the council since 2013 before becoming mayor and continuing the direction of the previous three terms of the late Dave Cull, said he was devastated by his loss.

How much the perception of his mayoralty might have been affected by the ramifications flowing from the Covid-19 pandemic is hard to gauge. Once he has licked his wounds, however, we would not be surprised to see him pop up on the national political scene

Mr Radich has pronounced "the people of Dunedin have certainly spoken", although he would do well to remember many people continue to remain silent, with the percentage of Dunedin’s eligible population voting this time at 48.2 compared with 45.6 last election.

What we might expect from Mr Radich is not clear, apart from a revisiting of his pet project, the trialling of a groyne installation at St Clair, rejected by the last council. Will there be enough enthusiasm around the council table for a review of the George St redevelopment, with the understanding that changing it to accommodate two-way traffic at this late stage could cost several million dollars? This would not seem a good fit with his talk of sustainable budgets.

He has yet to be tested on his ability to wrangle a council with some strong characters with views contrary to his, and how well he might reach across the divide to use the skills of those he might see as opponents.

He would be unwise to ignore top polling and capable first-term councillor Sophie Barker when allocating leadership roles, even though her politics do not align with his.

Will always controversial but still popular long-serving councillor Lee Vandervis expect to be in the running for a major chairing role? Would granting that be more or less problematic than passing him over for a plum job?

What rewards, in terms of jobs, might go to members of the business-focused Team Dunedin group Mr Radich led, sitting councillor Andrew Whiley and newbies Brent Weatherall and Kevin Gilbert, is unknown. (Cr Carmen Houlahan was initially a member of that group before she also decided to have a tilt at the mayoralty.)

Surprisingly, voters returned Bill Acklin, who completed three lacklustre terms in 2013, then was rejected when he stood again in 2016. It is hard to see this success as anything other than name recognition.

Other new councillors, hailing from opposite ends of the political spectrum, are former council employee Cherry Lucas and Mandy Mayhem-Bullock, who has served a two-term apprenticeship on the Waikouaiti Coast Community Board. Two-term councillor Rachel Elder was the highest polling unsuccessful candidate.

In Invercargill, it was an ignominious end to the long reign of Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt, with his deputy Nobby Clark taking the top job and Sir Tim not securing enough votes to make the council.

In Queenstown, one-term councillor Glyn Lewers takes over the mayoralty from retiring Jim Boult, and Anne Munro replaces retiring Mackenzie mayor Graham Smith.

Incumbent mayors the Cadogan brothers Tim (Central Otago, unopposed) and Bryan (Clutha), along with Gary Kircher (Waitaki) survived any backlash to their tenures.

However, in Gore and the Southland district there were close tussles. Gore is on the brink of electing the youngest mayor in New Zealand history.

Preliminary results have Ben Bell (23) just ahead of six-term mayor Tracy Hicks (70), while in Southland it’s too close to call with Rob Scott just ahead of Geoffrey Young and Mayor Gary Tong.