Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Wellington, city of adverbs

People don’t bother voting for local government elections and I’m not entirely sure I blame them seeing as it’s not overly clear what the powers of our elected officials even are. I live in Wellington, the city of adverbs – Absolutely! Positively! – whose council was nonetheless powerless to stop 27 of the city’s own employees being fired on the say so of the New Zealand Transport Agency. This is the same council that boasted being the first in New Zealand to adopt a living wage policy and two years later is having to negotiate its terms with the chamber of commerce, which as recently as last week sent an ominous letter to regional councillors about to vote on the same measure.

Then there is the District Health Board, where I’m voting for the only candidate in the entire blasted election I’m actually happy to support – Nurses Organisation president Grant Brookes – right before embarking on the quest for six more names to fill my ballot by this Friday’s deadline. Six! So far I’ve only ruled out the Rutger-Hauer-as-Roy-Batty-look-alike who cited as a qualification having hand-built his own house. I have some work to do. (Update: make them five. I hear Eileen Brown is very solid.)

It doesn’t help – whether at a health board, council, regional or mayoral level – that meaningful information is so hard to come by, that promotional materials are so vague and that candidate statements are so bland. You would not believe that the least atrocious candidate for Mayor is the guy whose profile contains the phrase ‘I'll be a champion for Wellington and will focus on looking forward and finding solutions, rather than looking back and finding fault’, and who put his own children on a billboard, along with the hashtag ‘Love Wellington’ (everyone else clearly #HatesWellington).

Vote for me, I reproduced successfully

To make matters worse, this is Wellington and we have single transferable vote so if there’s someone you truly dislike you have to rank everyone else ahead of them to give them the least chance to be elected. And there are just so many people to dislike, and for such a beautiful rainbow of reasons.

This time last year for instance, just as councillor Nicola Young signalled her intentions to run for mayor by attempting to con the city into thinking the Kate Sheppard lights were in trouble and she was the one to save them, I thought I would be campaigning fairly hard for people to write her last. But I didn’t know about Jo Coughlan yet. (On whom more in a minute.) Later one of my local ward’s two putative left-wing candidates, the indomitable Paul Eagle, referred to cycling advocates as ‘the Mayor’s Gestapo’.

I should probably be less proud of this artful piece of ironic juxtaposition

But between the New Zealand First candidate and the ‘red/green independent’ who also thinks cycleways are for ripping up and the candidate whose profile is a jumble of words, I don’t honestly know how far down I can push the guy. You see my problem.

I’m working up to the part where I show you lots of pictures of candidate billboards, which as you know by now is a passion of mine. But I do it with a heavy heart, for the choice is so depressingly drab. And it is drab for the same reasons why voting is hard: nobody is saying what they are going to do or what voting is even for. Everything everyone is content to do is remind us what they look like and what their name is. Possibly none more so than the aforementioned Paul Eagle, who in my suburb by now has greater name recognition than Jesus.

Another artful shot meant to represent the ubiquity of Mr Eagle in South Wellington
However, there is one exception, and that exception is also the most terrifying candidate: Jo Coughlan, aka the crazy car lady, who has manically staked her campaign on the subject of roads. And innumeracy. Four lanes to the planes!, she intones.

But Jo, surely four lanes to the planes means another four lanes from the planes, for a total of eight lanes, and I’m pretty sure it’s double what you are actually proposing.

No matter. Toot for a second tunnel! She goes on to implore.

But Jo, there already is a second tunnel, the one for the buses. Truly I hope this woman is better at getting the money for all these works from her brother in law – whom you might know as our finance minister – than she is at counting pieces of road infrastructure. Her other billboards also display a toddler-like love of cars, and if you’re willing to overlook the fact that Wellington needs more roads roughly as much as it needs to be at greater risk of tsunamis, she may just be your candidate. She clearly has the most coherent visual campaign.

(And yes, I’m still placing her last. Below even Young. Fuck getting more roads.)

Now, for (some) of the other billboards. The choice is so poor that I’m using specimens I collected elsewhere in the North Island during a family trip last week. I’m that desperate.

A modest classic reminds us of that great Stephen Colbert line: ‘In this show you’ll hear your voice, in the form of my voice.’

And who would be proud to be called ‘Swampy’?
Helene Ritchie’s great experience (in a debate she actually uttered the words ‘if you had listened to my wisdom…’) didn’t stop her from wanting to show us her stupid car for some reason.

There are barely any Young billboards around and she seems to have had them designed by a child. The central plank to her campaign is to say no to $300 million. We don’t want your stinking money!

While Nick Leggett’s hoardings get knocked down so often someone in his camp had the genius idea of attaching a second, smaller one to one of the posts of the main one. I hope this person is getting a promotion.

A supporter of DHB candidate Stan Litras also resorted to creative placement.

I’m a doctor and I can help with your neck problem

I’m only showing you Mazz Scannell because her candidate profile has the highest ratio of platitudes per word of any candidate profile in this year’s election. Which I guarantee you is no mean feat. The short text includes the tantalising phrase 'Lambton Ward has been my home for more than 38 years'. How many years is that then? 39? 40? One thousand? Is Mazz Scannell the Highlander?

Also: ‘Mazz’? White people have such weird names.
There are always candidates who make less than judicious use of quotation marks.

It “does”, does it Jenny?

But secretly plotting to promote Hastings?
Just as there are always candidates who mention three things and three things only.

Communication. Accountability. Excellence.

Vision. Direction. Passion.

Respect. Honesty. Integrity.

Experienced. Committed. Gets things done.

Mayor. Trewavas. Taupo. Wait… what?

Is there a whiter name than Tom Belford?

Yes there is: it’s Rex Graham.

And together with Chris Barker, they form the scariest triumvirate of 2016.

Although for sheer chills nobody beats Guru for Mayor.

I don’t know anything about this guy, and furthermore I don’t want to know anything about him. I photographed this billboard outside the charming ‘Abortion stops a beating heart’ headquarters outside of Paraparaumu, and I’m happy to leave it at that.

There is always someone who brings the weird and no, it isn’t the Tokoroa mayoral hopeful and Victoria Wood fan who wants to get freaky with his electorate.

It’s the Hastings District Council candidate who brought a sleigh and a train of reindeer into the proceedings.

If anyone knows why, please get in touch through the usual means.

Update. David Ritchie reports: "Kevin Watkins is "the Father Christmas man" in his candidate statement who brings "SANTA" to the streets like it's an acronym."

Barnaby Bennett supplies this picture of a billboard in Whangarei erected as a joke on behalf of a guy who isn't running by his friends, who misspelled his name. Oh, New Zealand.

Finally, Grant Buist chimes in with hoardings from Otaki which were vandalised with the addition of googly eyes - and nobody bothered to remove them.

And who could say no to "accountable commonsense"? They did it to Guru, too. He still scares me. 

The deadline for posting your ballot has expired, but you have until Saturday at noon if you march to the council building or wherever it is things are happening in your town. Check your papers.  
And fuck getting more roads.

PS: I have written a thing for Overland on the unmasking of Elena Ferrante and I'm rather keen for you to read it so head on over.


Giovanni Tiso said...

Comment from Sarah, copied across from phantom second version of the post:

Meanwhile in Hamilton.....' My vision for Hamilton is firstly truth from the political wing in partnership with the Chief Executive.'-Andrew King


david young said...

Tom Belford may be white, Giovanni, but he also happens to have been consistently and informatively opposed to the Ruataniwha dam in Hawkes Bay ever since it tried to rear its ugly head. I suspect the two men beside him also have a similar track record.
Nice piece though. in 2010 Coughlan stood up in front of her audience in a church hall in Wadestown and said, in the same sentence, with no change in composure, "I have six children and I believe in sustainability."

Keith Shorrocks Johnson said...

No apparition for Wellington - only a nightmare from the Front Runners

OrganicRose said...

I feel obliged to share a gem from #SunnyHorowhenua.

"A highlight for me was experiencing G forces in a jet fighter, touch and go landing in Auckland then returning to Ohakea, therefore local government holds no fears for me." - Vivi Deighton