Gisborne mayoral race: Who are the candidates?

9:38 am on 9 September 2019

Two city councillors and an Aucklander are vying to become Gisborne's next mayor.

New Zealand's new Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon

Meng Foon stepped down after 18 years as mayor. Photo: supplied

Tairāwhiti's long-standing former mayor Meng Foon stepped down this year after six consecutive terms to take up his new role as Race Relations Commissioner.

Rehette Stolz

Rehette Stolz Photo: Gisborne District Council

Newly sworn-in mayor Rehette Stolz, two-term councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown and Auckland-based former National minister Ross Meurant have all thrown their hat in the ring for the top job.

Ms Stolz, who was first elected to council in 2010 then served two terms as deputy mayor, was appointed mayor on 22 August following Mr Foon's departure, and she said it was a job she hoped to keep.

"I would love to make Gisborne a place that my boys would be proud to bring their kids back to raise here. I see the potential in our place and I would love to take our place from good to great."

To achieve this, the council needed "to get back to doing the basics well" including improving roading, transport, water quality and security and making it easier for businesses to thrive, she said.

"Our district plan is antiquated. Businesses are telling us it's not easy to do business, so one of the basics we do need to get down to are common sense rules to protect our people and environment."

If she was elected, the council's regulation of forestry would also be reviewed, Mrs Stolz said.

Ten East Coast foresty companies are facing charges after two storm events last year washed an estimated one million tonnes of debris onto properties, roads and Tolaga Bay foreshore.

Meredith Akuhata-Brown

Meredith Ahukhata-Brown Photo: Gisborne District Council

Tougher regulations for forestry was something two-term councillor and mayoral candidate Meredith Ahukhata-Brown also wanted, as well as making the industry pay more for the upkeep of the region's roads, she said.

But Ms Ahukhata-Brown's priority if elected mayor, would be addressing the growing inequality in the region.

"Our homelessness has risen, our youth suicide rates continue to still be really high and there are unemployment issues. Some people are doing really well but lot of people still live on the margins," the former social worker said.

Houses were being built for overseas migrants in the region but not locals, she said.

"We should be looking after our own first."

Ms Akuhata-Brown admitted her time on council had not been without controversy. She has been a vocal opponent of the Captain Cook commemorations being held in the city this year and was last year censured for accusing a fellow councillor of making a racist remark about the event.

She would continue to speak up on important issues and believed Gisborne, where nearly half the population is Māori, was ready for its first Māori mayor.

"The issues that are around Māori I believe are better understood by Māori. If this region is really ready for someone to be actively involved, because of that outspoken tenacity I believe I carry, now is the time for this region to become a leader.

"The Tuia 250 commemorations of James Cook could absolutely be about a new New Zealand," she said.

Gisborne had one of the lowest Māori voter turnouts in the country, so part of her campaign was focused on encouraging more Māori to vote, Ms Ahukata-Brown said.

Ross Meurant

Ross Meurant Photo: Gisborne District Council

The third mayoral candidate, Ross Meurant, lives in Auckland. He is a former police officer who was second in charge of the Red Squad during the Springbok Tour, a former government minister who has spent decades in business and had published several books.

Mt Muerant said he was "well qualified" to be Gisborne's mayor, because he had observed a lot while commuting there over the past decade to manage forestry and commercial property interests.

He was pledging to bring himself, rail and two more airlines to Gisborne if he was elected.

"This will lower airfares into the town. I mean, at the moment it costs me 900 bucks return from Auckland. The second is to reinstate rail because one of the biggest problems is transporting goods out of this region."

Upgrading the city's infrastructure was also a priority but would be expensive, though joint venture partnerships could help pay for it, he said.

"Inevitably rates are going to be affected as this county [sic] moves to fix the things that have been neglected. I've observed these things and I am interested in this region. I like it here so I'm having a go for mayor."

Gisbornites will have a chance to hear all three mayoral candidates debate in person at events on 10 and 16 September.

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