6 Sep 2016

Shadbolt faces serious competition for Invercargill mayoralty

10:05 am on 6 September 2016

The Invercargill mayoralty is being described as a genuine three-horse race in which Tim Shadbolt might well be toppled.

Tim Shadbolt in his office

Tim Shadbolt, Mayor of Invercargill and ex Mayor of Waitemata Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Mr Shadbolt is going for a record eighth term as the city's mayor at the council elections later this month, but the battle for New Zealand's most southern mayoralty has not been this hot for years.

A key challenger is Tom Conroy, a well-known broadcaster and businessman who runs a local TV production firm.

Tom Conroy

Tom Conroy Photo: Supplied / Facebook

Mr Conroy said after 20 years Mr Shadbolt had run out of steam.

"People are thinking time for change, and I'm saying don't just make it time for change, make it time for Tom, because you want something to change to," said Mr Conroy.

"That's what they haven't had in the past, with all due respect, they haven't had the complete package at the right time."

Mr Conroy said he offered a business-like approach to Invercargill's gathering problems: the downturn in dairying, the threat to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and most of all, what he called the frightening decay of Invercargill's CBD.

But also giving Mr Shadbolt a strong run is a former journalist, and one-term councillor, Karen Arnold.

Karen Arnold

Karen Arnold Photo: Supplied

Ms Arnold said she was a true daughter of the city who could overhaul its tired leadership.

Last year she clashed with Mr Shadbolt in a defamation battle.

She is trying to make the election a test of character.

"It's not so much about ideas, but about a new attitude, new vibrancy, new culture", Ms Arnold said. "It's about being inclusive, being committed, it's about being full-time."

She said Mr Shadbolt used a meeting room, but she would have an office and a desk and get more done.

But Mr Shadbolt is ready for the battle.

He said after 30 years as a mayor in Waitemata and Invercargill his experience was priceless.

And he said more than ever the city needed a leader who would fight for its interests.

"We may only have one-and-a-half MPs, and Auckland's got 30, but boy, we know how to fight down here."

Mr Shadbolt does seem to have plenty of fight left; he is busy fighting against the government's local government reforms and fighting for cheaper power lines pricing for Southland.

He's seeing the mayoralty as another one. "Whether the other two will be better fighters than me, well, we don't know.

"They might be absolutely stunners, the greatest political warriors this country has ever seen, but we don't know that, and with me, better the devil you know."

Mr Shadbolt had an embarrassing setback recently when council staff on a sister city visit to China bought $5000 of Christmas lights for Invercargill which were not compliant with New Zealand safety laws.

His opponents said that signalled a deeper malaise, though he said his council was just guilty of going too fast.

A lawyer and past city councillor of 15 years, Norman Elder, said the strength of the two challengers makes the election a genuine three-horse race this time, and he has not worked out who to vote for.

He said he would not know who to vote for until he saw their full campaigns, but he said at least the Invercargill public had a real choice this time.

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