Twenty-eight election candidates were present at Gisborne's Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae on Monday night for an event giving them the opportunity to introduce themselves to voters. Photo/ Matthew Rosenberg
By Matthew Rosenberg, Local Democracy Reporter
Tairāwhiti got its first taste of the options for this year's local body elections last night as nominees took the opportunity to introduce themselves at a "meet the candidates" event.
Close to 100 people packed into Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae to hear from 28 candidates on a range of issues selected by the host, as well as questions from the public.
Topics included land issues in the region, the fraught roading network, the introduction of Māori ward seats, and how the council could get more priority from central government for funding.
A quickfire question round asked candidates if they supported the Eastland Network sale, and if the city should grow "up or out" to support more housing.
The event was also an opportunity for the public to meet those who want to fill the five new Māori ward seats created under the council's November 2020 resolution.
Ani Pahuru-Huriwai described the upcoming elections as an historic year for Te Tairāwhiti, saying the introduction of the Maori ward was long overdue, and Jodie Toroa echoed that sentiment.
'One step forward'
"We've been very patient since 1840, and this is one step closer to Te Tiriti partnership," Toroa said.
Chris Haenga, who is also running in the Māori ward, said he was standing on behalf of all those who didn't have a voice, or were afraid to "get out there".
"The only promise I can make is that the rates will go up," he quipped.
Candidates were given a couple of minutes to introduce themselves before the microphone was once again passed around the room to answer questions from the host and MC, Manu Papuni-Iles.
Four people are running for mayor this election. Three were present at last night's event - Mayor Rehette Stoltz, Rhonda Tibble and Darin Brown.
Tibble introduced herself with a waiata, while Brown said he never thought he would get the opportunity to run for the position.
Diverse candidate applauded
Stoltz wanted to give "a big shout out" to everyone who had put their name forward.
"Democracy is alive. I'm excited we will see our Māori ward and general ward this time," she said.
"What a ride it's been. I'm excited about our future, we have so much potential here."
The event showcased candidates from a range of backgrounds, including teachers, farmers, lawyers and artists.
One candidate - Jordan Walker - was met with the full support of the crowd when they answered the question about why they were standing.
"I'm arguably the most diverse person currently standing. I'm Māori, I'm Pākehā, I'm a creative, I'm also takatāpui, so that means that I'm non-binary. I'm six months into my stages of transitioning."
Consultation called for
"I'm directly engaged with the youth. I think that it's important if we're thinking about the future that we have somebody like me on the council."
The room erupted in applause. A question from the audience about which mayoral candidate they would most like to work under was met with diplomatic responses.
On the issue of the Eastland Network sale, Ian Proctor said he was hearing from the community that it wasn't a good idea, and that he didn't believe in "selling out our people".
Rawinia Parata said Trust Tairāwhiti had an ethical obligation to consult on the sale, even if it wasn't legally obligated to.
"The answer is maybe. Potentially we would support it if we were engaged and consulted."
Thirty-nine people have put their hand up for election this year across the two wards and the mayoralty.
A similar event will be held at Tokomaru Bay Sports Club tonight from 5.30pm-7.30pm before moving up to Te Waha o Rerekohu School, Te Araroa at the same time on Wednesday.
Election day is October 8 with voting documents posted out from September 16.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air