Strong runners in the mayoral stakes

Local government elections are eight months away but four-term councillor Lew Findlay has already announced his intention to run for the Palmerston North mayoralty.

And the race looks set to be an interesting one, with incumbent Jono Naylor planning a third tilt.

Cr Findlay has expressed the need for a people-focused council, and says his grassroots approach would include greater involvement from the public in the decision-making process.

In his roles as a director of the Street Van and Shepherd's Rest trusts, Cr Findlay has shown a proclivity for working with the individuals society often casts to the fringes, be they people with substance addictions, mental health issues or criminal pasts.

Much like Mr Naylor, he is a God-fearing family man who genuinely cares about the greater good of the community. He has also shown himself to be an excellent councillor, and chairs the community and wellbeing committee. But playing the community values card is not necessarily a ticket into the big seat, as former mayor Heather Tanguay learnt when she was beaten in a landslide by Mr Naylor in the 2007 election.

As a councillor and a mayor Mrs Tanguay was hardworking, altruistic and a staunch advocate for community issues.

But Mr Naylor's broad, inclusive approach, paired with a well-organised and funded campaign, was the key to winning over a wider cross-section of voters.

While his affable nature appeals to the average Palmerston North resident, Mr Naylor is also savvy in his dealings with the business and education sectors. Since becoming mayor, he has proven to be an effective leader who is typically good-natured in meetings but can be decisive and firm when needed.

Cr Findlay's ground-level approach, straight-talking and desire for the "little people" to be heard will win him votes, but winning over the people with the big wallets is another question.

He has expressed the desire for a low-budget campaign that would be big on "word of mouth", but campaigns are greatly aided by exposure. Some of this can be gained through the media but having your face on a poster or the back of a bus is often the best way to enter the collective consciousness of voters.

Mr Naylor has in the past had strong support from financial backers, including getting $30,000 from real estate mogul Keith Marriott in 2007.

There is no evidence to suggest Mr Naylor appeals for these donations.

Cr Findlay appears to have hedged his bets by also running for a councillor spot.

If no-one else puts their name forward, then the city will be able to choose from two fine mayoral candidates, but, in Cr Findlay, Mr Naylor may have just found his toughest foe.

Manawatu Standard