Seventeen contenders are vying for the job of super-city mayor in the build up to October 12, election day. Reporter James Ireland got a taste of what lies ahead during the first of the region's mayoral candidate forums on Friday.
Mayor Len Brown leans with his left elbow on the lectern and his thumb and forefinger slightly extended out from a closed fist.
It's a typical example of how a seasoned politician might work a crowd - calm, friendly and positively adept at not giving away any unpopular detail.
The first mayoral candidate forum at the Pakuranga Bowling Club signals that the gates have opened and the race is on.
Just five of the 17 candidates are invited because they were the only ones confirmed to be running when the event was organised by Howick Pakuranga Grey Power last month.
All are grilled on rates increases and council debt.
Mr Brown's "Clinton Thumb" is designed for emphasis but is also a bit of a cliche for anyone who's seen it used by countless political leaders since its namesake made it famous in the early 1990s. The mayor's one specific policy platform is a commitment to keep rates to a maximum average increase of 2.5 per cent.
His relaxed pose is in stark opposition to Penny Bright who holds onto the lectern with one hand and works hard to keep her anger at the system within.
The seasoned lobbyist speaks slowly and each syllable is designed to link one anti-corporate buzzword to the next.
She is also 25 minutes late and freely admits she hasn't paid rates in five years.
"The last thing the Auckland region needs is businesspeople anywhere near the council," she says and members of the crowd boo.
Most candidates take notes, roll their eyes and throw the occasional glance towards the three journalists in attendance when others are speaking.
Uesifili Unasa is different. His attention remains on each speaker and he is the only one to give a believable round of applause when each finishes talking. He is calm and measured but doesn't have enough material to differentiate him from Mr Brown. His only point of difference is his focus on and understanding of the Pacific Island community.
Restaurateur John Palino presents a business-friendly point of view and wants to apply a sinking lid policy around the number of council staff. Not a single "um" or "ah" comes out of his mouth but his New Jersey accent makes him hard to follow and forces him to justify why he is in New Zealand.
"This is where I want to live. I can see opportunities of population growth not being realised. I'm worried the people are not being listened to. I want them to make their own decisions about their future," he says.
Mr Palino is the only candidate to get an audible cheer from the audience of more than 100 when he comes out against the Manukau whitewater rafting complex.
Veteran activist John Minto is pushing for free public transport to save the city money but gives no details of the plan. His tall slim figure stands out from the others in his brown jacket which looks like it's seen better days. He champions a living wage for all council staff of $18.40 an hour, telling a story of a cleaner who works three hours a day and struggles to feed her children. The approach is predictable - and it might work at a union rally. But a Grey Power audience is not the right choice.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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