The campaigning to be the next Mayor of Auckland has begun.
A number of candidates are considering a campaign to oust the incumbent, left-leaning Len Brown from the job. They seek to take over a city worth tens of billions of dollars in assets, and has problems as diverse as traffic, urban sprawl and water supply. So, who are the candidates in the 2013 Mayoral race?
One is John Minto from the Mana Party, who is the megaphone hailing spokesperson for the Unite union. Mr Minto has been a common feature of the protest scene around New Zealand, protesting at – among other things the participation of Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer at the A.S.B. Classic. He is also a columnist and former P.E. teacher. Mr Minto is known for his hard left-wing views including supporting 100% taxation on incomes over $250,000. Mr Minto will appeal to many people on the far left, disgruntled with the efforts of mainstream politicians from National and Labour. However, the conservative wing will criticise him heavily for his views on taxation, infrastructure and social justice issues.
A new comer who will shake up the race, but probably not win it, is Italian-American restauranteur John Palino whose political orientation is centre-right. He wants to get “rid of a lot of the bureaucracy in council”. How Mr Palino plays his cards will be quite interesting. On one hand there is indeed significant bureaucratic issues in the Auckland Council, which few will deny need to be sorted out. However the promise made by Mr Palino at a first glance smacks of the classic conservative approach to large government structures: cut them without much understanding of the processes or functions being removed. How well many people take to having an American businessman as a potential Mayor remains to be seen. The only thing certain is that interesting times are ahead.
The third person in the race is the incument Len Brown, who has been spending this first term of his in the office of Mayor trying to get consensus for his plan to drastically overhaul the Auckland railway system. Mr Brown came into office on the back of very widespread support in 2010, possibly as a protest against the second Mayoralty of former National and current A.C.T. Party leader John Banks.
The issues that they face are many and diverse.
Perhaps the most important issue in Auckland is its governance. As a guinea pig for the super council approach of the Government to governing the city, Auckland has faced many challenges, such as can one council really administer all of the projects and functions that the Auckland Council is expected to do? If it cannot do so, what are the alternatives? I always thought that it was the District Councils that needed trimming, from seven to say four and the Regional Council retained.
Then there is the problem of urban sprawl. I find it sad to watch perfectly fertile farmland being gobbled up by urbanisation, just because a few wealthy developers wanted land to perfect their real estate dreams on. In recent years I have watched the steady encroachment of the urbanisation spreading south from Howick and the eastern suburbs and wondered how the loss of that productive land could be compensated for. Sprawl is not becoming an issue in most of the other New Zealand cities in the same way that it is in Auckland because they are not geographically challenged by being sited on a relatively narrow strip of land bordered by salt water.
A third issue that Auckland needs to address is its ecological footprint. Aucklands actual ecological footprint is vast by New Zealand standards. Compared with Christchurch or Dunedin where there is an abundance of productive land nearby, most of what Auckland consumes comes from outside the province. For the immediate future this looks set to continue, but how long can it be sustained for?