'Hurry up and make a call': Wellington mayoral candidates urged to step forward

Tory Whanau announced her tilt for the Wellington mayoralty in November last year and wants other candidates to “hurry up”.
MONIQUE FORD/Stuff
Tory Whanau announced her tilt for the Wellington mayoralty in November last year and wants other candidates to “hurry up”.

The first contender to announce her tilt at Wellington’s mayoralty says her fellow candidates should “hurry up” so debate on the city’s numerous serious issues can start sooner rather than later.

Tory Whanau​ declared her candidacy in November last year, and is frustrated so few have put a stake in the ground. The former Green Party chief of staff is one of just two people to announce their runs at the top job, along with Significant Natural Areas opponent, Dr Barbara McKenzie​.

“Other candidates [should] hurry up and make a call. Water, housing, transport – which includes cycleways – these are big issues,” Whanau said.

“It’s disappointing because Auckland already has a range of candidates.”

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By comparison, Auckland has nine candidates locked in, and Christchurch also has two declared candidates – one being Ian Brackenbury, the Wizard of New Zealand.

Whanau said she declared early to show Wellingtonians she was serious about her intentions, but didn’t know why others were leaving their announcements later.

“Maybe it means there’s less time for scrutiny, or it makes things easier for them [running a shorter campaign].”

University of Otago Faculty of Law Professor Andrew Geddis says leaving candidacy announcements late is a well-practised strategy.
Supplied
University of Otago Faculty of Law Professor Andrew Geddis says leaving candidacy announcements late is a well-practised strategy.

McKenzie said she was inspired by Whanau to make the call early, which gave her time to get organised.

Professor Andrew Geddis​, who teaches democratic processes at the University of Otago, said leaving announcements late was a well-practised strategy which kept a candidate fresh in the minds of voters.

“The announcement of a candidacy is a media event... The closer to the election date you can get your name in the paper, the better.”

An early announcement left a lot of time for the candidate to fill, he said.

Leaving an announcement late did have risks, Geddis said. He pointed to the example of Russell Ellis, an incumbent Ashburton councillor at the time of the 2019 elections.

Former Wellington Mayor Dame Kerry Prendergast says finances also play a part in candidates’ decisions to announce their intentions.
Monique Ford/Stuff
Former Wellington Mayor Dame Kerry Prendergast says finances also play a part in candidates’ decisions to announce their intentions.

Ellis lost his role as councillor after a clerical error was not picked up before the registration deadline. He was not allowed to correct the mistake.

Former Wellington Mayor Dame Kerry Prendergast​ wasn’t surprised so few candidates had signalled their intentions.

“By June I think we’ll see a fuller field.”

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Like Geddis, she said the preference was usually to make announcements closer to the deadline, and to assess the field if possible. Finances were part of the decision-making – campaign expenditure limits are tied to population sizes. Wellington City had a recorded population of 202,737 in the 2018 Census, and the campaign limit at the last local body election was $60,000.

Candidates often liked to target their budget to a more concentrated campaign closer to the election date when voters were likely to be more engaged and interested, Prendergast said.

Another reason for the dearth of candidates could be attributed to the likelihood the Rongotai MP Paul Eagle​ could stand for mayor. Sources told Stuff the former councillor and deputy-mayor expected candidacy was “Wellington’s worst kept secret”.

Eagle already has name recognition. He won 57.11% of the votes in Rongotai, taking in nearly 26,000 votes at the 2020 general election.

With tens-of-thousands of dollars on the line, would-be candidates would naturally think twice if there was a higher risk of losing.

Eagle could not be reached for comment.

Current mayor Andy Foster​ is yet to say whether he will try to keep his chains, or run for a seat at the council
KEVIN STENT/Stuff
Current mayor Andy Foster​ is yet to say whether he will try to keep his chains, or run for a seat at the council

Current mayor Andy Foster​ is one of those yet to say whether he will try to keep his chains, or run for a seat at the council. He would not give Stuff any insight into his intentions or strategy.

Candidate nominations open on July 15 and close on August 12. Election day is October 8.