It was never likely that Len Brown would stand unopposed for the Auckland mayoralty this year. Indeed, he wouldn't want to: being a consensus candidate is all very well, but it's a lot easier to claim a mandate when you've actually beaten someone.
And Brown, as well-liked as he is, does need to demonstrate a mandate, not just to his city, but to central government, which seeks to confound much of what Brown and his council propose for Auckland's development -- without, as yet, proposing any coherent alternative.
John Minto entered the race last week as the Mana candidate. On his own -- and leaving Brown the vast territory to his right -- Minto couldn't do much more than keep Brown honest. The emergence of a candidate to the right of Brown might make for more of a squeeze.
One such candidate has now emerged. Restauranteur John Palino has declared his candidacy. I've met John a few times and I like him. He's a clever guy. But I don't think he has the networks or the experience for the mayoralty. How many councillors could he count on were he elected?
"The fact of the matter is that people are not happy with this plan. It's actually very scary and it's going to change people's way of life and we shouldn't do that and they're going to pay for with the road tax and petrol tax."
He says unlike the inner city rail loop proposed by Mayor Len Brown, building up Manukau is doable.
"That's an actual project that you can fund. You can go out there you can get Government borrowing, borrow from the public, Government bonds and you fund that through the fact that it's a business plan and you can say in the future this is what it's going to bring us. It could be 20 year, 30 year loans."
Really? Build it and they will come? That's a better business case than the exhaustively-researched City Rail Link? To be fair, Palino has been attending the public meetings around the Unitary Plan, and standing up and arguing strongly against its intensification elements. And as Campbell Live's very good report (really, watch it) showed, some suburban centres (sorry, "villages") are far less keen on the prospect of allowing eventual building-up than others are. Avondale says "bring it on" and Milford says "go away".
But the Plan can change. That's what the curent consulation process is about. What I don't think is viable is the assumption that you can address Auckland's housing capacity problems by telling people to go and live in a new development in Manukau. (It's worth noting that Auckland was founded on an intricate plan that was royally ignored. The city was supposed to develop in concentric circles around Waterloo Quadrant, and to spread east and west. People went and built the length of the north-south open sewer that eventually became Queen Street.)
Palino says he entered the race after growing tired of waiting for retiring Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson to declare his hand. I'm not sure how much Williamson had really thought about standing for the mayoralty until Patrick Gower started touting the possibility (and then, being Paddy, demanding that Williamson immediately either rule it out or resign as an MP) but my guess is that he won't do it.
Williamson is well-liked in Parliament (he should have been made Speaker) and clearly has an excellent electorate organisation. But standing as a centre-right candidate for the Auckland mayoralty means encountering a good deal of hostility and grubby politics -- and that's just from your own side.
Interestingly, the centre-right's most prominent candidate, the irritating but tireless Cr Cameron Brewer, seems to have done the numbers some time ago and decided he can't win.
But competition of any kind should motivate Brown to do a better job of advocating for his own policies. It's all very well ranting merrily from the stage at Laneway, but the course set for Auckland needs communicating, and Brown hopelessy flubbed that task when he appeared in Campbell Live's report on the CRL. How on earth did he manage to come up with numbers that actively undersold a key policy? (Mind you, even Minto doesn't seem to understand exactly what the CRL would do.)
Anyway, I'll tell you one way not to go about it: via childish blog posts like the anonymous We Hate Nimby's (sic), which CR Michael Goudie described as "brilliant" and linked to from his Facebook page. The mayor's office is aggrieved that the Herald's Bernard Orsman has dubbed Goudie's link to this rant against anti-intensifiers the promotion of "hate speech", but I think that's the risk you run when you endorse a silly screed that repeatedly uses the word "hate" about people who elected you. If this is a communications strategy, it's fucking stupid one.