Opinion: We need an Auckland-obsessed Mayor

The shoes are on, the laces are tied, and the mayoral race is officially on! The Ratepayers’ Alliance-Curia mayoral poll recently showed that four of the candidates are almost neck and neck, with Efeso Collins and Leo Molloy a nose in front. Viv Beck and Wayne Brown are a whisker behind, and Craig Lord is a little further back. The centre-right block indicates that Aucklanders may be looking for a step to the right – but it’s still very early days, and election campaigns are marathons, not sprints.

The Newmarket and Parnell Business Associations recently ran a Battle for Auckland – Mayoral Webinar Series. We hosted each candidate live on Zoom to hear their vision and better understand why they should be Mayor of Auckland. During the sessions, they were asked a range of questions from business association members and then put under the scrutiny of our media panel.

Each candidate articulated the problems Auckland has from their own perspective and gave glimpses into what sort of Mayor they would be – from desk-thumping-sock-it-to-Wellington action, to more considered and collaborative approaches. The series aimed to spark some interest in local body politics with the hope that some smart people, the good residents of Auckland, may be encouraged to put their hands up and stand for a local board or even council.

I find career politicians terrifying. Often driven by misguided ideology, without an actual understanding of just what it takes to run a business and the responsibility that can weigh heavy on your shoulders. Employing staff and providing incomes for families is no easy feat. Thankfully, New Zealand has bucket loads of small business owners who do that every day. They’re the coal (ok, EV charge) that fuels the local and national economy – we need them.

Council and Government need to have respect for small business owners and the fundamentally important role they play in our economy. The decisions made around the Cabinet or Council table often have material impacts on business, which can’t simply be brushed aside as ‘collateral damage’. Auckland is appalling at change and vision, always has been – this almost always hurts business.

The Government and Auckland Council dropped the ball with the central city area. We know Covid caused some on-the-fly decision making, but even prior to that, things had gone astray. The fumbling and bumbling by Wellington over the City Rail Link disruption and the lack of outrage and urgency from the Council group wasn’t good enough. The flipsy-flopsy way that Queen Street has been kicked around and the appallingly slow response on crime and anti-social issues. We’ve let the country’s most famous street, our jewel, lose its shine. We need Queen Street to be spectacular, and I’m sure it will be again. It shouldn’t be a place where you feel unsafe.

If I was a new mayor coming in, I would make this the top priority above all else – reclaim Queen Street for all Aucklanders. A symbolic move that would set the tone for the mayor’s term. A mayor of action, and delivery. Explain the change, sell the change and be the change. We need a mayor who is myopic about Auckland. Someone who can be outraged for us when we’re poorly served by Wellington and turn that outrage into a positive outcome. A champion who can inspire us and make us proud of this city. Right now, Auckland feels like a lot of hard work.

As a business association we are politically agnostic, as we must work across the political spectrum. But we would love the new mayor to work alongside business, and understand the importance of commerce, big and small. Someone who understands that private developers make stuff happen and help improve the city. We need to harness the expertise of the private sector. The best things of Auckland often don’t come from Council, and nor should they, they come from the deep pockets of property owners and developers, business owners.

I implore you to read up on the local body elections, and make sure you vote. Auckland is the world’s best little city, but we’ve hit a few speed bumps. The next few years provide an amazing opportunity for the new mayor – so let’s all get behind him, or her.

Mark Knoff-Thomas

CEO, Newmarket Business Association

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