Rhetoric, barbs, and a few boos

00:01, Sep 13 2013
Wellington mayoral candidates
WHO WILL IT BE? Wellington mayoral candidates Nicola Young, Jack Yan, John Morrison, Rob Goulden, Celia Wade-Brown and Karunanidhi Muthu.

There was rhetoric aplenty, a smattering of ideas, and barbs were thrown as Wellington's mayoral hopefuls battled for votes.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown had her fighting face on, Rob Goulden attacked his rivals, Nicola Young wants to go back to basics, John Morrison cruised his way through, Karunanidhi Muthu was adequate, and Jack Yan was the surprise of the night in a debate where criticisms increased as the night wore on.

Exactly a month before election day, the six candidates in Wellington's mayoral race faced off in front of 800 people last night in a debate co-hosted by The Dominion Post and Massey University.

Moderated by TV and radio host Wallace Chapman, the debate at Massey's grand hall saw candidates given a strict time limit for opening statements.

Ms Young began with talk of needing to regenerate the council - saying the current one had failed in that regard. "Our council has failed us, with lack of leadership, flip-flops, and its inability to build relationships with government."

She also drew some of the evening's few boos when she labelled herself the only candidate opposed to the living wage, saying that was not the council's job, and it needed to focus on running the city.

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Mr Goulden used the first half of his 90 seconds to shoot down the competition, setting him on an awkward path that often left him sparring with the moderator.

"We need a mayor who knows how to ride a bicycle, but knows when to ride one . . . We don't need a mayor, or an old grey stallion should I say, who doesn't know how to write his own script."

Mr Muthu and Mr Yan took the chance to outline their backgrounds - Mr Yan's in marketing and Mr Muthu's as a self-made man from India - while Mr Morrison promised to make Wellington shine on the national stage to "see us back at the head of the table, where we belong".

Ms Wade-Brown talked about making Wellington a place where people wanted to live.

Economic development showed its hand as the hot-button item as candidates answered questions from a three-person panel. But as each one repeated promises to address the economy, Mr Chapman struggled to get them to explain exactly how they would do that.

Ms Young fumbled when challenged on what terms such as "revitalise" meant, eventually saying that she would talk to businesses that had left Wellington, in a bid to try to identify problems to fix.

Meanwhile, a confident Mr Yan had the firmest plan, announcing he would work with the university sector to identify the companies with the most potential companies, and grow them.

Mr Morrison said he wanted to hold a leadership summit to harness untapped potential; Ms Wade-Brown said making Wellington attractive to live in would attract business, and Mr Muthu said the city was too reliant on a few companies and needed "more bench strength".

Mr Goulden again took the chance to target Ms Wade-Brown and Mr Morrison, calling the city's debt level of $343m too high.

However, Mr Chapman called him out: "You're just complaining - I want to hear leadership tonight, I want to hear aspiration, and you're not giving it."

Leadership - or lack thereof - was another strong theme, but Ms Wade-Brown had come prepared, with a stack of figures to back up her points, helping her gain crowd support throughout the night.

She was staunchly unapologetic about tight council votes, saying there were bound to be 8-7 decisions as long as there were 15 councillors.

Even if they disagreed on small points, their vision was clear.

"An 8 to 7 vote is as good as it was in the Rugby World Cup."

THE SCOREBOARD

CELIA WADE-BROWN

Presentation

Spoke well and had the most convincing delivery. Was not afraid to debate other candidates' ideas as well as outlining her own.

Ideas

Talked a lot about telling the "Wellington story" without making clear what it was. Sounded a lot more convincing when talking up the benefits of a living wage and better public transport.

Crowd reaction

Enjoyed the lion's share of the applause but most of it was there from the beginning.

Best quote

"We can't be all things to all people. We have to focus on our strengths and disaster resilience is one of them."

Overall score

8/10

JOHN MORRISON

Presentation

Got his main points across well. Responded with a mix of snappy comebacks and dismissive remarks when Ms Wade-Brown debated his policies.

Ideas

Made it clear that improving relationships with central government and building more infrastructure was the way forward, but that was about all that fired him up.

Crowd reaction

Enjoyed warm support from the crowd throughout but not a great deal more than the other candidates.

Best quote

"When we say we're open for business, we've got to mean it."

Overall score

7/10

NICOLA YOUNG

Presentation

Spoke clearly and a tad slower than everyone else to make sure the crowd heard her. Had plenty of sharp one-liners but probably overused them a bit.

Ideas

Appeared to win over the business owners in the crowd with her staunch opposition to the living wage and support for the technology sector, but otherwise played many of the same policy cards as the rest.

Crowd reaction

Warm, if not outstanding. Her opposition to the living wage drew a mixed reaction, but at least it livened up the audience.

Best quote

"Wellington needs changes, it needs affordable rates and no waste spending. It needs to invest in infrastructure for our city's future."

Overall score

5/10

JACK YAN

Presentation

Talked a bit fast, but his vision spoke for itself.

Ideas

Preached more "business-minded thinking" in politics and a rebranding of Wellington, which went down well.

Crowd reaction

Appeared to have won the most new fans by the end of the night.

Best quote

"Wellington should promote a more hi-tech, creative and collaborative image."

Overall score

7/10

KARUNANIDHI MUTHU

Presentation

Spoke with plenty of passion about his love for Wellington and his desire to clear out the "old guard" but it failed to really fire up the crowd.

Ideas

Said many of the same things as Nicola Young and Jack Yan but with a bit less pizzazz. Got a bit fired up when talking about getting movement on a rental warrant of fitness.

Crowd reaction

Mediocre applause at best.

Best quote

"We need a mayor with business acumen that can help Wellington compete with not just the rest of the country, but the rest of the world."

Overall score

2/10

ROB GOULDEN

Presentation

Spent more time complaining about the current council than outlining his vision, which did not go down well with the audience and led to an argument with the chairman of the debate, Wallace Chapman.

Ideas

Reducing council debt and keeping jobs in Wellington were his main goals but the crowd heard little about how they would be achieved.

Crowd reaction

Did not appreciate the constant complaining and snipes at Celia Wade-Brown over council debt. Drew the most jeers of the night.

Best quote

"We need a mayor who knows how to ride a bicycle, but also knows when to ride it, and that's not out to meet Hillary Clinton at the airport."

Overall score

1/10

The Dominion Post