28 Jul 2022

Former National MP Nick Smith eyes Nelson mayoralty

2:49 pm on 28 July 2022

Former Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith has announced he will be throwing his hat in the ring for the region's mayoralty.

National MP Nick Smith in Committee

Nick Smith is the fifth candidate to make a bid for the mayoralty. Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The veteran politician retired from Parliament in June 2021, after an inquiry was launched into a verbal altercation in his Wellington office.

On the streets of Nelson, it was clear what some people thought of Nick Smith entering the mayoral race.

"We'll be very happy to vote for him, I think he has a lot of experience and we will certainly back him," one woman said.

He is well known in the coastal city of more than 50,000 residents, where he spent three decades as the region's MP.

"I'm keen on Nick, I like his straightforwardness and I think he'd get my vote. He's got a lot of experience for a start after his years in Parliament," said another.

"He's been here a long time, he knows the locals, knows how it works."

Another said he had been a good local MP, but he had his "pluses and minuses" like all politicians.

A few dissenting voices could be found on the Nelson Community Group Facebook page, where some people expressed shock and horror at the news.

But Smith said after incumbent mayor Rachel Reese announced she would not be standing again, he received strong feedback from the community suggesting he should give it a go.

"I've always loved the work that goes in representing a local community, local government's got the advantage that it is more hands on, closer to real people. Sometimes, the work of Parliament in government can just get a bit far away from the real world."

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Smith said he enjoyed the challenge of public policy and finding systems that worked for people.

For the last year, he's worked in the family business, Smith Crane and Construction, as an engineer, working on wind farms in Hawke's Bay and Manawatū.

It was work he loved, but it meant a lot of time away from home.

"I actually promised my wife when I retired from Parliament that I'd be home much more, that's worked out not to be the case in building wind farms and so there's the opportunity in this role of mayor to be where my heart is, and that is in Nelson."

He said there was a feeling in the community that the Nelson City Council had lost its way.

"We've got the mayor, the deputy mayor and another five councillors retiring, we've got the chief executive and other senior managers going.

"All of the feedback I've had from whether it be stakeholders, previous councillors, even staff who have left, as well as many business and community leaders, is that our council does have some quite deep-seated problems."

Smith is the fifth candidate to make a bid for the mayoralty.

Incumbent councillors Rohan O'Neill-Stevens, Matt Lawrey and Tim Skinner have also announced their intentions to stand, along with former elected member Kerry Neal.

Ali Boswijk

Ali Boswijk Photo: Tim Cuff

Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ali Boswijk said the news Smith had decided to run for the mayoralty was not surprising, but she said local and central government were very different beasts.

"I think anybody who puts their hand up for that has got to be conscious of the impact that local government has, in a very immediate way on people's lives central government clearly has a huge and significant role in what we do, but local government make decisions that actually impact on a daily basis."

She said Nelson was a city crying out for more investment.

"We haven't seen significant civic investment in the city for quite a long time, and we've got a number of projects on the book that are just bubbling away, but nothing is yet has really come to fruition.

"We've got a whole generation of people who haven't seen any real change in the city."

Nelson Tasman Climate Forum co-chair Joanna Santa Barbara said it was shaping up to be an interesting election.

Smith would have to front up alongside all the other candidates to address a critical issue facing the city - the rising sea level.

"The view is that it is going to be a very interesting mayoral race, the forum will challenge each candidate on their climate action agenda which we see as a critical component of the platform."

Smith will take two months leave from his engineering role to campaign full-time for the mayoralty.

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