OPINION: The long-expected announcement yesterday that Lianne Dalziel will stand for the mayoralty of Christchurch against the incumbent Bob Parker at the local body elections in October gives Christchurch voters a clear choice between two strong candidates for the job.
Both are able politicians with long and successful careers. They are both Christchurch people and no-one can doubt that they both have a deep and sincere commitment to the recovery of the city.
Both are also strong personalities, who evoke strong reactions, both for and against. But this is an election in which issues, many of them profoundly affecting the city's future, matter more than they ever have in Christchurch's history.
It is on these issues, rather than the personalities of the rival candidates, that the election campaign must focus.
The last election for the mayoralty was overshadowed and almost decided by the first Canterbury earthquakes. According to opinion polls, until the quake of September 4, 2010, Parker was trailing badly.
Parker's performance in the aftermath of the quakes not just in leading the council but more importantly in providing a composed and articulate voice for a seriously rattled city turned his fortunes around and he reinforced that standing after the much worse disaster of February 22, 2011.
That was more than two years ago and the needs of the city have greatly altered.
The next mayor will have to provide leadership on deeply divisive issues such as the redevelopment of the central city, the fate of the Christchurch Town Hall and Christ Church Cathedral and a strategy for the restoration of the eastern suburbs.
Persistent questions about the performance and effectiveness of the city council's bureaucracy, particularly its senior leadership, must also be sorted out.
Perhaps the most important task for the next mayor will be to lead the elected members in such a way that the council will be in a fit state to take over from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority when the authority's mandate expires in 2016.
It is no secret that the Government has had no high opinion of the council's capacity. It is probably only the backlash it received over the sacking of Environment Canterbury that made it decide against intervening.
This is not just a matter of an allegedly bullying Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee trying to get his own way. Several months ago the normally mild-mannered Minister of Finance, Bill English, publicly expressed his discontent with the information Treasury was getting about the council's finances.
Managing the council's relationship with the Government is likely to remain the most delicate challenge facing the next mayor. Voters will have to decide whether Parker, who has done it with varying degrees of success for more than two years now, or Dalziel, a former minister in an opposition party, is the better person to carry it on.
Now that Dalziel has declared her candidacy, the debate on all these matters can begin.
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