5 Jun 2019

National Party stays out of Auckland mayoral race

6:58 am on 5 June 2019

National is not backing a candidate for this year's Auckland mayoral race, leaving some right-leaning voters with a difficult choice.

Mayoral candidates Phil Goff, left, and John Tamihere

Photo: RNZ / Supplied

With just three and a half months until voting opens, the two leading candidates are former Labour Party leader and current mayor Phil Goff, and former Labour cabinet minister John Tamihere.

There are some right-leaning mayoral candidates - John Palino, Craig Lord and others - but they are not household names and do not have the clout, and votes, that come with a National endorsement.

National insiders told RNZ the party was not actively recruiting.

But the party would love to see a late bid from a big name person, perhaps from the world of business or politics, it could support, they said.

Right leaning political commentator, Matthew Hooton, said the job of fronting the unwieldy and "broken" bureacracy of Auckland was not an appealing prospect for many.

"It doesn't attract talented people by and large into the mayoralty or into council. People in New Zealand who are politically ambitious go into central government, rather than local government," he said.

The council political grouping, C&R (Communities and Residents), which was closely aligned with National, had a policy not to officially endorse a mayor, preferring to focus on getting a majority of councillors.

One of C&R's executive team, and National board member, Alistair Bell said - speaking personally - he understood that right leaning voters could feel let down.

"The mayoralty of Auckland is a really, really important job and it is disappointing that a strong centre right candidate hasn't come along," he said.

Sources in National said it was expensive and time consuming to establish the name-recognition that was vital for success and the party would rather funnel its resources into next year's parliamentary elections.

A former National Party president and current campaign advisor for John Tamihere, Michelle Boag, said the thought of being mayor without a caucus could be off putting for some potential candidates.

The problem was exacerbated because councillors were elected by ward, rather than the city as a whole, she said.

"So, if you were looking to be a leader of... the council, you would look at that disparate, divided, paroachial group and say 'it's just too hard,'" she said.

The mayor, Phil Goff, maintained he was a centrist candidate. Much of his campaign material is an almost National shade of blue.

And John Tamihere's team said they were the team for the right, citing his running mate the former National Party MP and current councillor Christine Fletcher.

Ms Fletcher said it was out of date to think left and right when it came to Auckland politics.

"It's ridiculous. If I look at the councillors I most identify with... it's not a matter of left and right, it's a matter of experience and judgement," she said.

Postal voting opens on 20 September, with the last day to vote 12 October.

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