The invisible race to City Hall

By Natalie Swart

With Molloy out of the headlines, you might be surprised to hear the race to the top office is still underway and assume the garish billboards are simply a part of a vibrant new cityscape you weren’t consulted on.

Newsflash: there’s still six weeks to go.

On 11 August, The Spin-Off’s Anna Rawhiti-Connell told us to expect an onslaught of coverage about local government elections, including data visualisation, podcasts, a different way of doing debates and an updated version of the Policy Local website.  We’re patient folk but we’re still waiting and fear the would-be Molloy voters have completely tuned out, not to mention the ‘undecideds’ or those who were completely disengaged from the outset.

It seems the media has prematurely grown bored of local government elections this year, particularly the Auckland mayoral race, and it isn’t likely to bode well for voter turnout which has seen a steady decline since 1989 – a dismal 35% for Auckland in 2019, against a national average of 42.5%.   

But why the disinterest and how can we fix it in six short weeks?

In Auckland, we’re staring down the barrel of changes that will fundamentally change the way we go about our lives as we embark on an ambitious programme of work to reduce transport emissions by 64% before 2030.  This requires a nine-fold increase in public transport use, a 17-fold increase in trips by bike, and a halving of the amount of driving.

It’s a herculean task making it rather important to have a strong and capable leader at the helm. Just in case anybody had forgotten.

Auckland is often dubbed the ‘economic engine’ of Aotearoa New Zealand. While this may sound overstated, it is worth noting that the city contributes close to 40% of the country’s GDP. Surely a city that has such an impact on the country’s economy deserves more than a passing mention when it comes to its governance that is democratically elected every three years.

It might have the good citizens of Southland choking on their cheese rolls, but a live debate of the leading Mayoral candidates on state-owned TVNZ One might be a good start for a general understanding of the various policies on offer.

The many thousands of small to medium business owners in Auckland would no doubt appreciate some analysis of the electoral promises of those candidates who assert they are pro-business and have a plan for revitalising the city’s commercial recovery after more than two years of disruption.

The Government’s Three Waters reform programme - currently before Select Committee - is also looming large, with 2023 sure to be a critical turning point in one direction or another.

Of course, waning media interest in local government elections begs the question as to what coverage we can reasonably expect in an era of ever-shrinking newsrooms and budgets.

It also challenges us to think about creative workarounds for local authorities, whose hands are tied by strict rules set down by LGNZ around candidate promotion.

Because there is hope.

There were stunningly creative events and digital tools led by council communications teams across the country in 2019 which helped to catapult candidates into the spotlight where their policies and ideologies were then put under the microscope.

These teams knew the value of making the complex comprehensible via a compelling pre-election report, superb website navigation, and lean, well-designed summaries of key plans and strategies.

We can only hope these teams push the boat out even further in 2022, and rather swiftly.


A shout-out to Todd Niall from Stuff for this story about the Auckland mayoral race just as we went to push play on this post!   

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