Love him or loath him, Len Brown is on track to being re-elected mayor of Auckland next year, with no contenders for the all-powerful job on the horizon.
With just 10 months to the local body elections there is precious little time for anyone, however well heeled, to mount a challenge.
Former local government minister and ACT MP Rodney Hide, the man considered by many to be a likely candidate, has ruled himself out.
Mr Hide, a National Business Review columnist, told NBR ONLINE he would not be standing against Mr Brown and declined to pass any judgment on the incumbent’s performance since being elected in 2010.
Another tipped to put his hand up for the job has also declared that he is a non-starter.
Asked whether he would be a contender, Auckland councillor and local body stalwart Mike Lee said:
“Ha, ha Rod. Not me, and I don’t know of any others at this stage.
“I think Len Brown deserves a second term – he’s a very hard-working mayor, a good leader and has unique talents for the job.
“I would rate him for the determined way he has kept on pushing the City Rail Link in the teeth of government opposition – history will vindicate him.”
So what advice would Mr Lee give him in the event of his re-election?
“More focus on things that benefit people and make a difference on the ground rather than on endless plans.
“The other advice – don’t let the resource consent bureaucrats continue to shut out local communities from resource consent processes which directly impact on their neighbourhoods.”
Mr Brown is not taking anything for granted but declined to be interviewed by NBR ONLINE, saying he was “too focused on the job at hand to be thinking [of] next year’s election at this stage”.
Another Auckland councillor, Dick Quax, believes Mr Brown “will have the field to himself”.
“The Auckland mayor has been handed executive power, along with a budget of $4-$5 million and a staff of about 20.
“This provides the incumbent with a huge advantage over a challenger.
“A challenger would need to be extraordinarily well resourced in order to overcome this advantage.”
It is estimated that Mr Brown and former mayor John Banks spent $1.6 million between them vying for the mayoralty in the last election.
Mr Quax says the mayor’s performance has been “a bit of a mixed bag”.
“He’s been an enthusiastic booster for the region. On the other hand, he is driven by a flawed political ideology which is highlighted by his desire to restrict any peripheral growth in favour of a compact urban form.
“I am very concerned for the future of Auckland if we do not allow land release for residential and commercial development.
“Prosperous cities overseas are those with light handed regulation and low rates.
“Sadly, under this administration we are moving in the opposite direction with even tighter controls over land supply, which have led to adverse economic, environment and social outcomes.”
Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer, earlier tipped as a possible contender, believes the “enormity of standing for the mayoralty” is why no one is rushing to mount a challenge against Mr Brown.
“If you want to run a serious campaign you need to raise $1 million – with up to $600,000 allowed to be spent in the last three months.
“It means employing people full time, having sponsored vehicles, television commercials, billboards from Wellsford to Bombay, and committed volunteers door knocking and working the phones.
“With potentially up to one million voters to convince, it’s the biggest directly elected job in the country, so actually very few New Zealanders could be seen as serious contenders.”
Mr Brewer says the other reason why there is not a serious contender at this stage is that “the media narrative for Brown largely points to a second term”.
“It’s going to be a big candidate with some serious resources that can change that commentary and override Brown’s $4 million Town Hall office and 20-odd full time staff.
“Someone with a national profile and good chief executive or financial credentials would give him a run for his money.
“If Steven Joyce or Judith Collins were helicoptered in they’d put up a good contest but I can’t see that happening.
“The big name will come in 2016 when Brown has run his course and taxed and spent himself silly.
“That’s when there’ll be a crisis to fix – at the moment it hasn’t quite hit the back pocket.”
Mr Brewer says the mayor’s enthusiasm and energy is “second to none” but he’s going “too fast, too big and too soon”.
“He’s running around with absolutely no handbrake whatsoever and saying yes to every bright idea, which is proving very expensive for the Auckland ratepayer.
“Let’s not forget that under Len Brown we’re now borrowing $1 billion every year, which is nearly $3 million a day.
“At this rate his long-term legacy will be the crippling debt he leaves our children and grandchildren.”
Mr Brewer believes Mr Brown has done a good job “pulling in all the outlying areas into the super city”.
"Three years ago the farmers of Pukekohe and Wellsford were not happy but he’s worked hard in the south, west and north to make sure no one’s left feeling unloved.
“However, the economic benefits of the amalgamation have yet to be delivered by this mayor.
“Let’s not forget that 265,000 households had a rates increase averaging over 8 per cent this year, with 133,000 of them paying the full 10 per cent cap.
“On feel good stuff and community development he’s passed but on delivering on ratepayers expectations for fairer rates, lower council costs and greater local government efficiencies, he’s failed.”
Fellow Auckland councillor Penny Webster told NBR ONLINE Mr Brown “deserves a second term”.
“If you look back in history one of the problems for Auckland city is that we haven’t had a two-term mayor for a long time.
“I think that’s a real issue because the mayors have flip-flopped left, right, left, right and having central politics in local government never works.
“When you walk in the door here you’ve got to leave your politics out and you’ve got to look at what’s best for the whole area.
“Obviously, Len protects his core people but I think he has largely put politics to one side and when you go out and talk to people they are very impressed with what he’s done.
“Clearly, we have our differences but I think he’s brought stability to the council and that’s been the issue in Auckland over the years.
“I wouldn’t like to see a change at this stage, Auckland doesn’t need it.
“We’ve been through a hell of a lot of pain and we need to continue on as we are,” she said.
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