Who wants to be the next mayor?

JOHN MCCRONE
Last updated 08:28 13/10/2012
Beck
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ
NEW COUNCILLOR: Former Christ Church Cathedral dean Peter Beck, right, with fellow ward councillor Glenn Livingstone.

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Right now it sounds like the dream ticket. Christchurch City councillors Glenn Livingstone and Tim Carter standing as mayor and deputy mayor in 2013.

A blend of Left and Right making a show of unity for the sake of post-earthquake Christchurch. The two most effective critics of the 'Bob and Tony Show' - Mayor Bob Parker and chief executive Tony Marryatt - joining forces to ensure regime change at next October's local government elections.

Of course at the moment this is just speculation. Parker may have confirmed he is standing again, but there is still another whole year to go and potential rivals are unlikely to officially declare their hands before April or May.

However, the fact the talk has already started shows how much is riding on the vote.

The past year has seen the council looking weak and divided. There have been street demonstrations calling for resignations and early elections. Former Nelson mayor Kerry Marshall had to be called in as a peacemaking Crown observer to prevent the council imploding.

Christchurch needs to be sure it returns a strong and capable council at the next elections - one able to stand up to the Government and speak out for local interests during the earthquake recovery.

So the stakes are high. And it is not just all about the mayoralty. The desire to see only the best come through may lead to a clean- out around the 13 member council table.

Some long-standing councillors have already indicated privately they will be retiring in 2013 anyway, blaming the friction inside the council as much as their exhaustion with earthquake issues.

But some of the other sitting councillors could face an unexpectedly tough battle to get back in.

For instance, in the Shirley- Papanui ward held by Parker supporters Aaron Keown and deputy mayor Ngaire Button, there are whispers that former three-term mayor Garry Moore may seek a return to politics in his home constituency.

This might seem a step down for Moore, but these are not normal times and he has been noticeably involved in the recent street demonstrations and recovery rallies. Judging by the way he is fronting in public, the appetite to be a voice at the council table appears to be there.

And then what if Moore were joined as a Shirley-Papanui candidate by the likes of Rev Mike Coleman, the firebrand spokesman for the Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan)?

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Coleman has been proving himself a strong speaker and effective organiser in championing first the city's red-zoned residents and now its schools threatened by closures.

In the wake of the earthquakes, people are being judged on how they have responded and Coleman is just one of a number of names to have been thrust into the limelight as good councillor material.

If something similar happened in the city's other wards, the council table could end up with a surprisingly different complexion.

Who would actually run for mayor and who would stand in support becomes an interesting question.

At the moment, the presumption favours Livingstone because he would be backed by a party machine, People's Choice, the Left-leaning grouping of councillors and community board members that used to be known as Christchurch 2021. But Carter, as an independent, might harbour his own ambitions.

It is also possible that some bigger name might yet enter the race the way Wigram MP Jim Anderton did against Parker in 2010, knocking them both out of the equation.

Labour's Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel is the obvious person, even though she has been ruling herself out, saying she would much rather hang on in Parliament in the hope of ousting Gerry Brownlee as Earthquake Recovery Minister.

However, the need to bridge divides - not just Right and Left, but in Christchurch, also east and west - is high in many minds. So a unification ticket would be expected to play well at next year's elections.

Carter seems easy to peg as the young son of a property-owning dynasty, his rich-lister father and grandfather both having served on the council before him. But just who is Glenn Livingstone, who has come out of nowhere?

A first-term councillor who only scraped into his Burwood- Pegasus seat by a wafer-thin margin of 52 votes, is he honestly now a genuine contender to be the next mayor of Christchurch?

Livingstone answers the door of his Burwood home in his working uniform of conservative dark suit and crisp white shirt.

One reason he stands out from his Labour colleagues is he looks the dapper businessman, dressed for success (though photos from just a few years back, showing bushy chevron moustache, baggy brown clothes, suggest there has been a conscious make-over).

At mention he is being talked about as a possible next mayor, Livingstone comes over simultaneously pleased and bashful. 'Oh, thank you,' he replies. But then in typically unguarded fashion, he confirms that if things did go his way - if he were to gain selection as the People's Choice candidate in the elaborate caucusing that will take place next March or so - he would certainly be up for it.

And Livingstone believes in the strategic benefit of teaming up with Carter, with whom he says he has more in common than you might expect.

'I'm hearing the call for people to work together and be smart about the new council. People want to avoid splitting the vote.'

Livingstone says the way the numbers are, if both Left and Right put up their own candidates for mayor, there is every likelihood of Parker slipping through the middle. And stopping Parker has become the name of the game.

Sitting in his home office, we get down to the question of how 49-year-old Livingstone got to where he is - how as a Presbyterian minister, he chucked in the church and threw himself into a political career without much of a Plan B.

Born in Palmerston North, the son of a salesman, Livingstone says he moved about the country as a child, spending some of his time in Christchurch. 'I went to Bamford Street School and Redwood School in the early 1970s.'

It was an average Presbyterian family, he says. In fact a teenage Livingstone found church rather boring. But he was then steered into the ministry while doing an arts degree at Massey University.

'My minister asked 'What are you going do with your BA?', and I said I don't know. So people talk about the church as a calling. I actually call it a falling,' Livingstone laughs.

He gained quick promotion. After a stint in Wellington, Livingstone moved to Christchurch in 1994 where he first ran the double parish of Belfast and Redwood, then from 2003 to 2010, the even more demographically divided parishes of Spreydon and Merivale.

Livingstone was also building up a large family. Married to his second wife, Anthea, in 2002, there were his two children, her three children, and another two they had together. 'We've been good to the people mover industry,' he says.

However, after 20 years with the church, Livingstone says in his mid-40s he felt the itch for a change. 'I guess you would call it a classic mid-life crisis - but in a positive way,' he hastily adds.

Church politics were a catalyst for the decision, Livingstone admits. He was distressed that a younger generation, Presbyterian Affirm, was taking a 'regressively fundamentalist' line on issues like same-sex marriages. 'Affirm - I called them 'The Firm',' he says wryly.

But Livingstone had also been attending the Labour Party electoral committee meetings of Waimakariri MP Clayton Cosgrove and found the whiff of Parliament exciting. 'I've always been fascinated by the craft of politics.'

So in 2007, while still a minister, Livingstone had a first tilt at both the council and local community board. 'I got some good votes, but nowhere near enough.'

Then in 2010, he decided to get serious, quitting the ministry at the beginning of the year, hoping to earn a bit of money as a marriage celebrant, and going all out for a new job in politics with the intention eventually of becoming an MP.

A tall ambition, Livingstone cheerily agrees. Especially as at the time he was living in Bryndwr, the suburb where his wife had grown up and where the children were at school, but quite the wrong side of town for an aspiring Labour candidate.

'So my plan was to stand again for the council in the Fendalton- Waimairi ward in 2010, then in 2011, try for selection by the Labour Party to run against Gerry Brownlee in Ilam,' says Livingstone, breaking into good- natured laughter.

He realises that even if he had made his mark on the campaign trail, it still would have been a long wait to climb any further in the party hierarchy. However, again came a lucky tap on the shoulder.

David Close, Labour's wily Christchurch organiser, asked Livingstone to cross town to stand for the Burwood-Pegasus ward alongside People's Choice councillor Chrissie Williams.

Livingstone was not sure how his wife would take the move, but he was reassured to come home the next day to find a stack of property magazines on the bed.

As an unknown, without even time on a community board, Livingstone's approach to the 2010 election was simple. He got out and knocked on doors. 'I just went crazy. I did something like 6000 door knocks until the September earthquake interrupted things.'

His target was 100 a day. 'Someone had to be the other side of the door for it to count.' And he kept a spreadsheet tally of his progress. Putting dignity to one side, Livingstone also stood out on busy road corners, holding up a 'vote for me' sign to the passing traffic.

Many told him afterwards they gave him their tick just because he showed how much he wanted it, Livingstone says. 'I don't know if many others would make that effort.' Yet even then, the result was nerve-rackingly close.

Livingstone's biggest threat was the established community board figure David East. It took three days and a recount before there was finally confirmation he had squeaked past East by 4848 votes to 4796. 'I tried to build the kids a playhouse to distract myself while I waited, but it was tough going.'

Livingstone does not seem to be someone who over- complicates things. Rather than operating on grand theories, he is more your 'get out and get on with it' type.

Today is a day of constituency work rather than council meetings or workshops. Livingstone has already had a 9 o'clock breakfast meeting with a local baker to hear how the closure of an earthquake- damaged bridge in South New Brighton bridge is affecting businesses there.

His schedule will go on into the evening. At 6pm, the Burwood East Residents' Association wants to talk about some blue/green zoned land that home-owners want to go red. At 7pm, Burwood School is urgently considering the proposals to close it and merge it with Windsor Primary.

'Often I won't get home to have tea until 9.30pm or 10pm.' Livingstone does not know if a councillor's life was this hectic before the earthquakes, but there is certainly no lack of work at the moment.

Livingstone says MPs like Dalziel are working even harder. And now realising the effect that spending half the week in Wellington would have on family life, he is feeling more like confining his sights to local politics.

'I remember thinking that local government would be too boring. I thought it would be far more exciting to go to Wellington. But now it's the other way round.'

The skills of a church minister do transfer to politics. Livingstone says a large part of it is being natural with people in what is often an unnatural situation. But as a newbie to council, Livingstone was not expected to have much impact. Even Tim Carter had already served three years as a community board member in his Hagley-Ferrymead ward, learning the ropes of council process.

Four People's Choice candidates were elected in 2010 - Livingstone, Chrissie Williams, Yani Johanson and Jimmy Chen - roughly matching the three from the Right-leaning Independent Citizens group of Ngaire Button, Helen Broughton and Jamie Gough.

In the early days of the new council table, many remarked on how it was Carter and Williams (then the most experienced of the Labour councillors) who regularly paired up in opposition to Parker. An alliance was forming there.

But Williams, after some ill- health, suddenly quit in September 2011. It was noticeable after that how Livingstone and Carter were seen backing each other up more. In a report card judging the council given out by The Press in April, Livingstone, Carter and Johanson all scored B+'s on their performance, reflecting their willingness to speak out.

Talking with Livingstone, it becomes plain just how much the unhappy relationship with Parker is continuing to dominate council politics right now. Livingstone says it has become a consuming issue - the thoughts are all about how to get Parker out when really the council's energies ought to be devoted to solving recovery problems.

And Livingstone believes the problems would have been there even without the earthquakes.

'Bob is such a strong polarising figure. You're either with him or you're not. The interesting thing is he preaches unity, but what he practises is division. So my own view is we would have needed the Crown observer anyway.

'It was inevitable because in his first term Bob had more support around the council table and less people who would question him. This time the chickens have come home to roost.'

Livingstone complains that Parker has skilfully turned things around in some eyes, framing the dysfunction as residing in his opponents - the knockers and leakers among 'his' councillors.

Livingstone admits Parker is a powerful character and even sounds half-admiring of his acid handling of the council's private Monday morning start-the-week sessions.

' 'Notice of motion. No, Livingstone, I'm not happy with that,' ' repeats Livingstone in imitation of the kind of sharp- tongue head teacher you would rather not catch the attention of. 'No, it's not that enjoyable really,' he sighs.

Indeed, it is Parker's ability to control the floor, to tie his opposition in verbal knots, which is the factor that some see as the biggest bar to Livingstone stepping up to run for mayor.

'Livingstone's a nice guy but how would he cope in the campaign?' confides an insider. 'You need to be very strong to go up against Parker in public and I'd be worried about how Bob could really nail him in front of the media two weeks out from the poll.'

But by the same token, adds the source, this comment would apply to just about anyone. Which is another reason to have Livingstone gang up with Carter as an anti-Bob coalition would become far less vulnerable to any one-on-one attacks.

Of course, opponents to Parker are going to have to demonstrate some record of achievement. It cannot be just all about personalities. Is Livingstone ready on that score?

Livingstone says he can claim some significant victories such as helping push through an independent insurance tribunal to help homeowners with their quake damage disputes and a procurement policy to keep a close eye on how council money was being spent. He has also been involved in other projects like affordable sections for those red- zoned.

If the call comes, he believes he is ready.

What do the others being mentioned actually think about how next year is going to pan out?

Carter picks his words carefully, because after all a lot could change between now and then. He is dealing with hypotheticals at present. However, he agrees a joint approach of some kind is clearly on the cards.

Carter says he could easily work with Livingstone, whom he admires. 'You're right that maybe not much was expected of him because he was new to council and unfamiliar with how things are done. But his performance has been outstanding.'

More of an old-fashioned Tory conservative than a hard Right figure, Carter points out that he also gets on well with fellow ward councillor Yani Johanson.

There is the ticklish question of who would lead and who would follow when it comes to a Livingstone and Carter pairing.

It might be thought People's Choice would definitely push for their man as mayor. But strategy might also dictate that it gets in behind a candidate more likely to appeal to westside Christchurch - the half of the city that not only votes Right, but this time round may be sensitive to voting in a mayor too strongly identified with the problems of the east for fear of a lack of political balance.

So that could put Carter in the frame, especially if dissatisfaction with the current council led to a formation of a new recovery party.

Carter says he is not sure he would even want the job of mayor. It is a tough one. But his concern is to see the city unified and he would back any option that could make it happen. 'No matter who it is, the next mayor must be able to repair relationships with the council table, with the residents and community, and with the business sector.'

Carter can think of other possibilities. What if Parker decides instead to bow out, he asks? Faced with the prospect of Garry Moore and a generally hostile council table, Parker might not even run. Then everyone who wanted to stand could stand on their own merits, Carter says. And maybe that would be the cleanest thing to do.

Yet if Parker does go for a third term, Carter acknowledges the mood is to find some partnership formula that avoids people cancelling each other out in the race. So a united front - the nightmare ticket for Parker - is definitely in the making.

But not even his enemies are counting him out. The feeling is Parker is a sharp operator. And after a rough year, he is bouncing back. Parker has already flummoxed a few with the fact he is coming out with a ghosted autobiography of his quake experiences next month - Ripped Apart: A City in Chaos. It's a political tell-all, from his side, of course.

Also suddenly appearing at his elbow in the past few months as an adviser is John Bullock, until recently the press secretary of former Cabinet minister Nick Smith. So from the outside it appears the ground is being carefully prepared ahead of next year's mayoral campaign.

Meanwhile, there are other names to be conjuring with.

What of Peter Beck, the high- profile former Dean of Christchurch? He is now a councillor alongside Livingstone, having won the Burwood-Pegasus ward by-election last year standing as an independent. Many immediately tipped Beck as the most likely next mayor, although he has since been taking a more quiet backseat than expected.

Or could there emerge a big- name Right-winger? Some candidate other than Carter drawn from local business or politics?

Rather curiously, Dalziel has several times mentioned rich lister Humphry Rolleston as a possibility. And Rolleston has been involved in projects in the east like the Avon rowing lake proposal. However, there is so far no sign of Rolleston wanting to step out of the shadows, fronting publicly as he would already have to be doing to have a chance.

An even more fantastical suggestion is Roger Sutton. Perhaps he would like to get out from under Brownlee's thumb as chief of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera)?

But that's not such a likely scenario when you think about it. Just in going to Cera, Sutton was agreeing to do a lot more work for a lot less money.

Still, it shows how the speculation is now building. It seems the 2013 local council elections are going to be epic and historic. It will be a contest across the board unlike any seen before.

It could be Livingstone that circumstances propel to the top floor of the Christchurch City Council civic offices in Hereford Street, but even he knows a year is a long time and a lot could happen yet.

- Fairfax Media

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