In the running for a council seat

Last updated 14:12 18/07/2012

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OPINION: Congratulations to all nine candidates running in next month's by-election, writes Tim Shadbolt in Southern Focus.

There are hundreds of Southlanders who are prepared to whinge and whine about their local council but only a heroic few will actually put their hands up and run for public office. Standing for council in a by-election is far tougher than running in a triennial election, when the focus tends to be on the mayoral race.

Another factor that does not apply in a by-election is the donkey vote. In most city councils throughout New Zealand, about half the successful candidates have surnames that begin with the first six letters of the alphabet. Invercargill is no exception. Councillors have the power to change this, and our last robust debate on the issue dragged on for at least three minutes.

When Roger Donaldson was making The World's Fastest Indian, I asked him why he chose the phonetically clumsy name of Aardvark for his trendy film company. "Simple, " he said. "We are the first film company in the phone book."

As much as I loathe cynicism, the first letter of your surname can be a powerful political weapon when 30 or 40 candidates are running for 12 seats. In this by- election, however, four candidates have surnames beginning with "A" and two of those share the same surname. This could be seen as a disadvantage, but it certainly didn't do the two Winters any harm in the ILT elections.

So who are the magnificent nine and why should we vote for them?

I'll start with Allan Arnold, because his Christian name starts with "A" as well. Allan's greatest attributes are his two successful restaurants, Ziffs and Buster Crabb, which employ about 35 people. His greatest hurdle is that his last attempt was unsuccessful, but Southlanders like to see a candidate who gets knocked back, picks himself up and has another go.

Karen Arnold may share Allan's surname but that's where the similarity ends. Karen is a tough, hard-hitting journalist who won two prestigious media awards for exposing the stupidity, mismanagement and incompetence of council-owned companies. While this may win her respect, the challenge she faces is to become inspirational enough to win the hearts of voters.

Hunter Andrews is the other journalist running for office, and spent five years reporting on council affairs, so he also has an excellent understanding of local government and how it works. He is focusing his campaign on the future of earthquake-prone buildings. Those who know Hunter through Cue television will be attracted by his wit, charm and intelligence, but his greatest hurdle will be increasing his profile beyond the world of Cue.

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Rebecca Amundsen's approach to council is far more down-to- earth than most other candidates. She has won a lot of respect around the council table for her work with the Glengarry community and has a wide network of grassroots community workers that will undoubtedly support her. The greatest hurdle she faces is her media profile, and while she may have a heart of gold, the question remains whether she can connect with the mainstream voter in a short, sharp campaign.

Steve Broad will have no problems in terms of a media profile, mainly because of his success in New Zealand Idol. However, we all know that musical talent doesn't automatically translate into political success, so his degree in political science is probably just as important. Steve is an obvious frontrunner and his greatest hurdle will be not taking his victory for granted. Regardless of his youth, musical talent, tertiary education, wealthy background, good looks and many other advantages, he still has to roll up his sleeves and do the hard yards.

Steve won't be only candidate with God on his side, because God loves a trier, and there is no greater trier in local government than Carl E Heenan. Carl challenged me for the mayoralty in the last elections and he proved a surprisingly astute and skilled debater. He may be humble, but as a street day appeal collector for the Hospice, RSA, St John, the Cancer Society, the Heart Foundation, Red Cross and the Blind Foundation, no-one can question his commitment to the community.

Charitable work is a major factor for many voters and Debbie Jamieson will be well-known for her role in the Relay for Life. Debbie, however, has the ability to combine community work with good business practice. If elected, I'm sure she would use her obvious promotional skills and talents to attract businesses, residents and visitors to our city. While I'm sure she is admired by those who know her, she also faces the challenge of lifting her profile.

Many people will be amazed to see a candidate who is on the ill- fated Bluff Community Board. However, despite all the drama and trauma that has erupted in Bluff, I've never heard Charlie Te Au hurl obscenities at his fellow board members and he does make an effort to follow standing orders.

At the very end of the alphabet, but with no chance of coming last, is Lindsay Thomas. He is the only candidate with experience, and experience does count. When it came to replacing Jackie Kruger's positions as deputy mayor and chairman of policy and finance, our council opted for two councillors with more than 40 years experience between them rather than "risking" a new councillor. The voters could easily adopt a similar view. His main policy platform is keeping down rates - always a vote catcher.

The only fact we know for sure is that eight candidates will not be elected, but good on you for enriching our political landscape. Regardless of the result, at least you had a go!

» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.

- The Southland Times

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