Can the mayor of a city make a difference? Four of the candidates for the top job in Wellington certainly think so.
One factor uniting the candidates is the belief that the city needs to get more vibrant, dynamic and exciting, regain its spark, recapture its mojo … the words vary but they are all addressing a widespread feeling out there in voter land, that the old ways exemplified in the Absolutely Positively Wellington brand aren’t enough anymore.
The recipes for revival don’t vary much either. Manufacturing is almost gone; public service numbers
are down and are not likely to rise much. Prosperity will come from other stuff: tourism, ICT, education, the creative industries, from being brainy not brawny.
It’s a familiar mantra; build the motorway to the airport, extend the runway, develop relations with China, build on our strengths, foster the clusters and hubs where we have some competitive advantage: earthquake engineering, film production, international education.
One factor dividing the candidates is leadership. “Just indescribably appalling” says Nicola Young of Celia Wade-Brown’s leadership. As a city “we are not slowing down. We have stopped.”
John Morrison says, “I am standing because the city is going nowhere and because (Celia) has let it. Someone has to put a stop to that, and I have stood up to do so.”
Build the Basin Reserve flyover
It’s inevitable, so yes to building it. Let’s get on with it.
Council has been outplayed by the governrnent. The funding is there, so take the rnoney and mitigate the impact.
A Board of Inquiry has never said no to a major development, so the flyover is coming whether we like it or not. My role is to mitigate its effects and ensure that it has design elements like bus lanes.
Build it. It’s part of the Ngaraunga to airport system, and we can’t stop now. It’s the key to the whole roading network, because all roads – north-south and east-west meet at the Basin . It also preserves the Basin itself.
Earthquake strengthening – determining priorities, and who pays?
We need a working party of engineers, architects, heritage, business and community people, Get the list of heritage buildings, cost the strengthening they need and then prioritise against the money we have or could raise, So list them and work out how to fund them, This is not a city council responsibility alone.
Public safety is paramount. Employ the best experts in Wellington? With human lives it is whatever it takes. And that overrides heritage considerations. Preserve the facade if you want, but we need progress, Ken Lavery, the WCC CEO, has explained how the earthquake bond arrangement would work, and I have endorsed that.
We are halfway through the upgrades of social housing and they are really important. If a building is owned by a business and is not heritage, it’s up to the building owner. Earthquake strengthening should be tax deductible. We proposed to government that businesses should be able to borrow money and repay it through rates. The idea of raising money through bonds is really a tweak on this approach. Only if there is a public good should public money be used.
For heritage buildings I back the bond concept. Some were just expecting that central government would pay to upgrade our buildings, but I am more proactive than that. We can’t do them all, but the bond idea gives us access to fund managers and bodies like ACC and the Cullen Fund, who would lend money against the security of the building and get repaid by the building owner. Ministers like Brownlee and Finlayson like my approach and have said so publicly.
Jack Van, who was third in the mayoral race in 2010 and is running again, says the council lacks unity. He is unhappy with the way councillors got their portfolios. “Favouritism and expediency have been used over merit.”
The mayor is anticipating the “city is going nowhere, nothing has been done” attack. Her pamphlet lists 32 achievements, and promises 30 more, She is most proud of “the town centre project, rebuilding in Miramar, Churton Park, Kilbirnie, all improvements on what was there. Recycling is now bigger and better, a wider range of waste is picked up and quantities are increasing. There’s less rubbish on the beaches. Free wifi in the CBD. 100% of building consents processed within the statutory period.” Add artificial pitches and this is a list of projects that most if not all councillors have supported, retorts John Morrison.
Talking negatively about the city’s direction and prospects is being used to undermine Celia’s credibility and performance, she says.
“There is an element of “where are the jobs, Mayor,” but we have created some, and we are doing the connections and the introductions in China and other places, and we trust that private enterprise will create jobs.”
Jack Van has a different take. “My opponents don’t understand the global society. Wellington is well placed given its innovative nature. Some cities in East Asia are capital rich but innovation poor. All my businesses have gone international. I would bring that mindset to the job of Mayor.
The unpleasant economic facts show that on GDP and job growth Wellington was behind the national average in six out of the last eleven years, including both 2011 and 2012, according to economic research firm Infometrics. In those years job numbers in the region fell compared with growth of around one per cent nationally.
One thing I’d do to create or bring more jobs to Wellington
Create a business-friendly culture. I’d also stop milking rates or we will cease to be affordable. Don’t squander money on foolishness like smart phone apps for the homeless. The council has spent over $1000,000 and raised $423 in donations for the homeless. Spend wisely, not like the ratepayers money is pocket money for the council.
I would say to Grow Wellington: work with Victoria University to develop the most academically rigorous set of criteria on what makes high-growth firms work. Let’s promote those firms that meet the criteria. We’ll have mayoral delegations overseas. I have some experience in doing that – more than my opponents. I speak four languages. I can do this stuff.
It’s about the smart economy. I back innovation hubs for IT start-ups and social entrepreneurs. A new economy is being formed. Loomio has 50,000 users. I want an extension to the airport runway. It is a project of national significance, and central government has to help. One more flight a day is not going to generate the landing fees necessary to fund a $200m extension to the runway, but the extension is needed for the wider economic good of the region and the country. And I have raised that with Key and Brownlee.
I’d instil an attitude of being business friendly. We are wonderful at putting roadblocks in the way of people. I have sought and got jobs through pursuing an opportunity to bring a call centre to Wellington. There’s about three hundred jobs as a result, and the company is talking about perhaps up to 2,000. I won’t sneeze at that.
Celia Wade-Brown points to “5,900 new jobs being created in Wellington this year, more than in
“Hotels are delighted with sales for the AFL game, for WOW, and for Wellington on a Plate.”
She adds that Wellington needs more companies like Xero. “It’s transformative; call centres are not.”
It’s a dig at John Morrison who brought a call centre to Wellington arising from “discussions with
the management of the St Kilda AFL club about playing a game in Wellington. I picked up on the
opportunity and 300 jobs are the result.
“I’d love a lot of Xeros but we need all kinds of jobs. Call centres work just fine for students and people coming back into the workforce.
“I do things Celia can’t or won’t do. She’s had three years, and there’s no new Rod Drury type company as a result. Decisiveness and action – that’s me.”
From 2004 council elections in Wellington have been held under the STY system, and no mayor has won easily.
Under STY the lowest-polling candidate is eliminated and “his or her votes are redistributed to the other candidates still in the race in accordance with individual voters’ preferences” according to the statement of the Council’s election website. Each count is called an iteration.
In 2010 there were six candidates and Celia won only on the sixth iteration.
Kerry Prendergast won the mayoralty in 2007 from 11 candidates on the ninth iteration. In 2004 she won from six candidates on the fifth iteration. Whom voters mark as their second third and fourth preferences matters. The candidates all acknowledge that, but are coy about what has been said among them.
Celia Wade-Brown says that she and Jack Van “have had some conversations” but won’t elaborate. He has “the freshest ideas.” And as fellow liberals, she and Nicola Young have “ideas in common.”
There’s been some discussions about issues, she says, but endorsing each other as second choices for their respective followers “hasn’t been mentioned.”
John Morrison has had “a couple of chats,” with Nicola Young, “but not specifically about preferences. I have not made any gestures to Jack.”
Nicola Young is the only mayoral candidate also standing for council, but unsurprisingly she rejects claims that this is to boost her profile or to help Morrison become Mayor.
“I am not the bridesmaid,” but she concedes, “John is my second choice.”
Jack Yan has supporters who are backing him precisely because they are disappointed with both Wade-Brown and Morrison. Therefore he finds it difficult to contemplate giving any guidance.
Celia Wade-Brown got over the line in 2010 because more of those who voted for Jack Yan as number one chose her over Kerry Prendergast. She implies that she will approach a second term differently.
“Other mayors have been deputy mayors, Cabinet Ministers or had a mentor. I have done it on my own and learnt a lot.”