Wellington Scoop

The mayoral race: first predictions

by Ian Apperley
With just a few weeks until voting closes, there is no clear picture of who will take the Wellington Mayoral chains. While Justin Lester has key advantages, other contenders could help to topple him.

There are nine mayoral candidates all vying for the top job, most working hard on the campaign trail/ Some start to lose their minds a little bit, while the seasoned warriors are enjoying the ride. A lot of different tactics are in play; however, as time ticks on we are seeing more and more of a “same same” position where candidates all agree on the same issues and policy, leading to a rather beige campaign.

That beige campaign is here now. If I hear “I will fix the buses” one more time, I think I will scream. Not only is it a boring policy, but it’s also not achievable. At best, the WCC could tinker around the roading network to improve travel times. You still need drivers though, and a host of other things the City Council has zero control over, and central government has no interest in getting mired in before a general election.

I’ve written three drafts of this piece now, and if I were still using a typewriter, there would be a large pile of screwed up paper balls of copy lying scattered around a waste paper basket. As an analyst by trade, the number of permutations of nine candidates and the fluctuating environment makes for maddening analysis.

So let’s start by stating the obvious, those who are not going to win the mayoralty barring some unimaginable intervention. So we can strike out four: Ajay Rathod, Andrew Grantham Cox, Don Newt McDonald, and Norbert Hausberg.

No disrespect to these fine people who are committed enough to take a stand, giving up what precious time humans have these days to lay out their view of what Wellington could be. That deserves some recognition. But they aren’t going to make it, let’s face it.

That leaves us with five: Conor Hill, Justin Lester, Diane Calvert, Jenny Condie, and Andy Foster.

Let’s start with policy. On the face of it, until you dig, all five are offering the same thing. Better transport, climate change stuff, and financial prudence / focusing on the important stuff instead of spending money on “vanity” projects.

Yes yes, there are some points of difference, but generally they are all pitching the same stuff at us. This makes it hard to decide on who to vote for, especially when we see debates where they are all endorsing each other and their ideas.

It’s a shame we can’t just take these five and make them Councillors overnight. They all pretty much agree with each other, they have the priorities about right, you could see them working together as a team, and they’d probably get stuff done.

Voters are not going to dig deeply into policy statements. They are going to vote mostly on face and name recognition. It’s one of the flaws of democracy. So that’s why you need slogans and one-liners relating to policy, there’s a good example of that out near the airport where you see a giant billboard of Andy Foster dropping a one-liner about fixing traffic. It’s smart because it is on an absolute pinch point where you get to sit in a queue for twenty minutes or so several times a day and over the weekend. All you can see is Andy. Promising stuff.

My other prediction is that this election will be the worst voter turnout in recent history. Not only are the candidates all saying the same thing, but we don’t believe them anyway. Because the perception is that everything has become worse in the last three years. Public transport, traffic, housing, the economy, there has been little visible progress in terms of the economy, huge issues with buildings in the CBD, and skyrocketing rates.

Residents are like, “WTF, I’m not voting for any of these people.” That’s what people are saying to me.

We could get youth to vote, but frankly, unless it is digital, it isn’t going to happen. The idea of taking a pen, a piece of paper, reading a book filled with old, boring people, scoring them, then licking an envelope and taking it to a post box (good luck finding one), is utterly alien. Even I find it weird.

E-Voting needs to be sorted out now, but the government have been terrified into submission by vocal lobby groups that tell them it will be the end of the world if it happens. Well, guess what Luddites; it’s going to happen, one way or other. It’s happening spontaneously in Hong Kong right now.

Right, so here’s the bit where I start to get into trouble, leading to people sending me rude txts, msgs, tweets, and other manner of electronic trash talk. Let’s remove three candidates from the final five.

Envelope, please.

Jenny Condie, Conor Hill, and Diane Calvert are not going to get to number one. I want to spend a little time on each candidate, so bear with me, and then I am going to write another article specifically on the battle between Andy Foster and Justin Lester, who can quietly sit in the corner for the meantime.

It’s very unusual for newcomers to win first time out of the gate. It takes years to build name recognition and trust with voters. You need to start about a year out from an election as a minimum and plan it carefully, so you are a) not sprinting too early and b) keeping new ideas flowing and fresh.

Conor is my favourite candidate, even though I don’t think he’ll get there. He has this humour and energy that the others don’t. Starting from a tongue-in-cheek blog about running for mayor, he went ahead and did it! He kind of looks like a Wellington mayor should, somewhat hipster, a part government employee, a little bit Seattle, if you get me.

The policy is good. I love how he releases a policy, and then everyone tells him why he can’t do it, and Conor’s like, “whatever, we could still do that if we really wanted to.” The houses on the golf course policy statement was a great example. I do think his policies might be a little bit too new for what is a pretty old and staid in its way city in reality. Especially those who vote, being likely to be older and more conservative than the lazy youth who don’t know how to lick an envelope.

Conor maximised his media coverage by being the only contender other than Justin for some time. Justin has, to the detriment of his campaign in my opinion, tried to brush Conor away and dismiss his arguments, and Conor has just stuck to him like glue.

I think Conor has a good chance in future, especially at getting on the Council as a Councillor. We need some fresh and younger thinking. Conor might make it this time, but he’s going to have to take out Diane Calvert (possible) or Simon Woolf (tough.) IF he had chosen a lesser subscribed ward, Eastern or Southern, then he’d be on the Council in a few weeks without doubt.

I sincerely hope he sticks around in the community eye regardless of where he comes, given his fresh thinking, ideation, the challenge to the statement “we can’t do that” with a retort that we can if we really want to, and his instinctual grasp of the city and how it operates as an organism.

Jenny! I love the campaign. It’s straight in your face with pretty simple messaging and an excellent color palette. Jenny is also running in Northern, and being on the mayoral campaign trail will be boosting her chance there. She could displace Peter Gilberd, who is seen as the weakest of the current three Councillors in the Ward.

Jenny’s angle, my perception, is around climate change primarily leaning heavily on the “I believe the children are our future” theme (thankfully without any use of that particular song, which would be election suicide) and is filled with ingenious thinking. But it might be too smart for the average voter.

It is my observation that people like Jenny often strike out on the campaign trail seeking to make a difference by being elected. They are usually professional, smart, innovative, change-makers, disruptors, who think that being on the Council will allow them to bring improvement to the city.

It won’t. Sadly. You have far more influence outside the Council than on the Council unless you can bring a whole bunch of you at the same time.

Interesting side thought. If Conor, Jenny, Iona, Sarah, Steph, and Tamatha got onto the Council, there could be a good core group to make change happen. YES YES! I know they are all green! That’s my point.

Diane Calvert is frequently in Twitter wars, and she needs not to be. The left attack pack has undoubtedly got it in for her, leaping on pretty much every post. That’s because she’s somehow been painted as belonging to the National Party, and, the left is desperate to get a Labour candidate into Onslow-Western, which, by the way, is not going to happen.

Diane is frustrated. She’s the leader of the Community Engagement Portfolio and has been thwarted in making any meaningful change there. There is a deep anti-engagement culture within e who generally think that we shouldn’t bother consulting. Island Bay, Shelly Bay, the debate around Freedom Camping, and parking have all been a complete mess.

She’s a smart woman. She can see the problem, see the solution, see how to get there, and then becomes quite annoyed when things block her path. She’d be a no-nonsense mayor at the end of the day, though she’d need a very experienced deputy, and I can see her wielding the gavel with impunity. But not this time. With two heavyweights in the room, it’s most unlikely. Diane will be back on Council; with this profile, she’ll retain her seat in Onslow-Western easily, which is good, because the residents do need a strong voice in their corner when it comes to engagement.

Next, I am going to take a look at the Andy and Justin battle. It’s feeling quite even at the moment, but as always, there are some underlying factors in play.

First published on the Inside Wellington website.


  1. Local, 19. September 2019, 12:13

    Jenny Condie is running an excellent campaign-with substance and determination.
    She will be an asset – with her financial qualifications and experience, her focus on climate action, her clear and lateral thinking and as a young mother her care for future generations.
    She does not equivocate over climate action, -unlike Foster and Lester with their tunnels and four lanes to the planes, and who want it all in any order and will achieve none of it because of that. Their hypocrisy over climate change and polluting cars is so obvious.
    It is a pity Conor Hill did not stand in a more vulnerable ward….I like his social priorities more than I like Diane’s 4 lanes to the planes.
    Lester boasts that one of his main achievements has been getting the Council to work harmoniously…while standing on the campaign platform with two of his councillors determined to run against him! .

  2. The Cut, 26. September 2019, 9:09

    This is a good read and I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. I particularly like the way you praised the first four who won’t make it, because it does take a lot of energy to put yourself up there no matter what. Anyway Mr Appleby I’d love you to come along to one or both of our Rates Cutz days this weekend & engage with our crowd. Free haircutz… just saying, no bribe!