Can Coffey break McClay's hold on Rotorua?

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2014
Tamati Coffey
Supplied.
TV TO MP? Tamati Coffey is vying for the Labour nomination to challenge Todd McClay in Rotorua.

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Tamati Coffey readily admits he's taking a risk, walking away from a lucrative career in television to attempt to secure the nomination as the Labour candidate for Rotorua.

"Just turn up and be a smiley face on TV? At the moment I've had to say no to that and essentially blacklist myself from TV. I could have done radio as well but I've shut the door to that too. I'm going out on a limb here."

And while he admitted that for many it would appear to be a career switch that's come out of left field, he said in fact it was the TV career that was the surprise, to him at least.

Coffey studied politics, leaving Auckland University with an honours degree in political science in 2003, and always intended to pursue a career in politics.

It was the success of New Zealand's Got Talent that proved the spark for the revival of his political ambition.

"It was an amazing thing to be part of, and for me it felt like it wasn't going to get any better than that," he said.

"When you host the highest rating TV show in a decade in New Zealand, you can't go much higher than that. That was the signal for me."

He concedes that his profile could have opened doors to more or less any political party in New Zealand, but for him it was always going to be Labour.

"It has always been Labour, I've never been a National Party supporter," he said. "For me I think it's very much a two-horse race, it's Labour or National. Sure you can opt for one of the smaller parties, and I do like the Greens, I do like some of the stuff the Maori Party is doing, but Labour is me."

He said his parents, both Rotorua residents, come from a working class, union supporting background.

"Labour is that party, and I'm gay so Labour is definitely the party that best represents me."

While he was never in doubt he'd nail his colours to the Labour mast, he was equally certain Rotorua would be the place. "This was always home. School holidays I was here, Easter I was here, my nan and koro were still here. In fact I didn't realise there was anywhere north of here."

That family connection is a strong driver for his desire to enter politics, and it's a story familiar to many Kiwis.

"Both of my sisters are now living on the Gold Coast, they moved from here because there's just no jobs here, and most of my cousins too. No opportunities, no jobs and therefore they've left."

He said he wants to make Rotorua a place people return to, rather than leave from, and he thinks engaging with disenfranchised young voters will help him do just that.

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However, he's also acutely aware he doesn't have the Labour nomination - yet.

"I still have to prove my worth in front of a room full of Labour Party faithfuls, and I have to convince them that over and above the smiley face you see on TV there is another side of me," he said.

"I need to engage with them on issues such as the economy, industry in Rotorua, youth affairs, everything that's going on in this town I'll be quizzed on and I have to prove myself."

He also readily concedes that if successful, he'll have a tough task to unseat Rotorua MP Todd McClay.

"I'm the underdog here, absolutely," he said.

- The Dominion Post

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