Even mayoral race best for city

Deputy Editor Ric Stevens
Deputy Editor Ric Stevens

Lianne Dalziel is good for Bob Parker, and vice versa. It seems an odd argument, but each needs the other to validate whatever comes of the Christchurch mayoral election.

The point was made eloquently by city councillor Peter Beck when he announced in March that he would soon retire, and expressed a wish that the coming contest should be a "two-horse race".

"My hope is that there is one, and only one, seriously credible alternative [to Mayor Parker] so that the city has a clear choice," Beck said then. "That is good for democracy. It is good for both candidates. Whoever is elected will then hopefully carry a real mandate of the people."

Parker and Dalziel may be rivals, but curiously, it is a good thing that they are so evenly matched. Would you want to put money on it? I wouldn't. This gives city voters a proper choice.

Parker has been openly at loggerheads with the Government and particularly the Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee. If he wants to silence his critics and regain his mana as a mayor for the Christchurch rebuild, the most effective way to do that is to defeat an opponent of Dalziel's calibre in a fair fight.

Likewise, if Dalziel, the current Labour MP for Christchurch East, wants to convince conservative ratepayers that she is the right person to lead the city through this critical time, then beating Parker might just do the trick.

Voters should not pay too much attention to the party politics in this election.

Dalziel has already demonstrated a willingness to work across the political divide by courting the likes of councillor Tim Carter and Student Volunteer Army leader Sam Johnson as possible running mates. Both declined.

Parker's political hue is indistinct, despite his years in politics. Before the 2010 mayoral election, he received praise from Prime Minister John Key, who said Parker and the National Government worked well together. That tacit approval pre-dated the February 2011 earthquake and all the bitter words that came after it, and voters might choose to assume that any Government approval of Parker has expired.

Both Parker and Dalziel have been tireless workers for Christchurch, each in his or her own way.

Parker has more than his fair share of critics, but still deserves credit for his years of public service, for bringing Banks Peninsula into the city fold, for his leadership in the immediate earthquake crisis and his advocacy for Christchurch since.

Dalziel is applauded for her efforts for constituents in the shattered east, and also has a long history of political service, including as a minister of commerce.

The question that Christchurch voters should be asking themselves, though, is not about how the candidates have performed so far, but which would make a better leader for the city - and particularly of the dysfunctional city council - in the critical years to come, both before and after the heavy hand of Cera is lifted in 2016.

Both Parker and Dalziel have considerable strengths. The real danger here is that a credible third candidate will declare and deny ratepayers the chance to make a proper decision between the two. It would not help the city if a mayor was elected at this important time who did not command a clear majority of votes cast.

Such a credible third candidate would be perfectly entitled to stand, but should carefully consider his or her motives for doing so before declaring.

Ric Stevens is deputy editor of The Press. He votes in the Selwyn District.

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