We also needed vast quantities of ice and rum – and a satchel of brain-rattling drugs for those who wanted to finish the campaign on the highest possible note, regardless of the outcome.The Battle of Aspen
As the election gets down to the wire, let’s face it, most of the voting will be done and dusted the night that election packs arrive in mailboxes, the campaign trail is getting a little tense and weird. I see quite a lot of gritted teeth, strange outbursts on social media, hyper-sensitivity to issues (I mean, did you see how fast Simon Woolf ran after that Botanic Gardens naming misstep?), and stress.
Time is running out, voting papers hit homes in a week, and candidates are scrambling madly to get sell themselves. In the overall campaign, the race for mayor is always the most interesting, with candidates having a punishing timetable of meetings and debates along with endless “surveys” from lobby groups keen to paint candidates into one corner or other.
Justin Lester and Andy Foster are in, what I think, is a very tight race of the mayoralty. Both have a good chance at winning, with Justin likely just running on enough political capital to sneak over the line first, just like a race car running that last lap on fumes.
But it’s not over by a long shot, and there is a very real chance that Andy could push Justin out. Especially on the back of the fear from a lot of Wellingtonians being that economic conditions are softening, while rates are going through the ceiling, and money is being spent on “vanity” projects.
The problem with being the incumbent in a mayoral race is that your opponents can attack you on your past failures, successes are reset to zero, and the judgement is harsh. Except that isn’t happening on the campaign trail, because as Kiwis, we don’t do conflict. But. In the background, we think it.
And the city is thinking about it. It does feel a bit like the last three years have been tougher than usual. People believe that we have regressed on several areas, including the CBD as a liveable option along with a lack of investment in suburban centres. Traffic is now a daily nightmare for thousands of Wellingtonians while the public transport system for the city is effectively on life support.
There is economic uncertainty, and we know that the city suffers a minor downturn in a general election year (next year) as government look to be seen to be tightening the belt. Couple that with the feeling that the future of the city feels a little uncertain with a distinct inability to make any plans, LGWM a case in point, making residents uneasy.
Into this situation come, Justin and Andy, both promising they will solve problems and make things better.
In front of a large crowd at Wellington’s Wharewaka, Lester outlined his Councils achievements so far. “When I was elected Mayor three years ago the Councillor relationships were considered toxic and many people felt the city lacked a clear plan,” he said. “Over the last two years Wellington has been recognised as the World’s Most Liveable City and this council has delivered our entire triennium programme”Justin Lester launches Mayoral Campaign
In his launch, Justin outlined three major policy pieces, which at the time raised a few eyebrows given their brevity. It effectively covered transport with the removal of private vehicles from the Golden Mile (note, not pedestrianisation of the Golden Mile as some think), tweaking traffic with a range of measures, and bringing in a “Welcome Home” package to help integrate refugees.
Since then, there hasn’t been much in the way of policy and Justin has been running a minefield with opponents and mainstream media very much trying to pull him into hot areas like Shelly Bay, LGWM, and the mysterious Julie Ann-Genter letter, which has now reached an almost Holy Grail status level amongst political pundits.
“I’ve never had so many people say they want a change, and ask me to run for Mayor. They are very unhappy about what’s been done, about what has not been done, and about the way things have been done.”
“People love our City very deeply and are proud of the way it has developed into one of the best cities in the world to live in, but there is now a widespread view that we are losing our way, and I want to put that right,” says Andy.Andy Foster enters mayoral race – wants to restore vision, energy and progress
Andy’s policies were thin at the time, but there were some notable statements on what he wanted to see done. The Green Belt network is to be completed, a heritage park established on Miramar peninsula (already underway), parks in the central city, a potential rollback to free parking on weekends, fixing civic square, a damning statement on LGWM, resurrecting the airport flyer, and taking a knife to expenditure to keep rates increases down.
The policy positions are then quite different, for the most part.
Justin could be described as “more of the same” with an eye on overall progress, and that Labour focus coming through on people care. He’ll be keen to keep LGWM rolling; getting it started would be a win, and sticking to the Long Term Plan aspirations. In other words, finishing what his Council has started in the past triennium.
Andy, on the other hand, is going back to a highly city-centric view and slightly old school approach, and almost patriotic view of the city. More parks in the CBD, a focus on the environment (as opposed to Climate Change), traffic planning that includes all modes of transport, fiscal responsibility (bordering on austerity), and fixing the heart of the city.
It’s a subtle difference, but a difference all the same.
Then the accusations started flying. Justin was a Labour Party stooge who was being told what to do by his shadowy masters, including the Greens. Social media attack dogs spent hour after hour trying to pick him up and throw him into the whirling blades of an out of control LGWM controversy.
Similarly, social media attackers went after Andy Foster linking him to the New Zealand First Party, hammering him for being backed by Peter Jackson (they went after Peter Jackson as well), and cherry-picking perceived failures over his decades’ long career.
Both men escaped unscathed, in my opinion. Wellingtonians are pretty good at ignoring political attacks on politicians, preferring to sit back, wait for the dust to settle, and see what actual truth came out of a fight.
In short, a vote for Justin is more of the same, following the plan, granted with a few tweaks, while a vote for Andy is a change.
Next, we look at both candidates in a (further) subjective light.