By LDR Staff Reporter
Former NZ First MP Ron Mark didn't plan to run for Carterton's mayoralty. But with residents and ratepayers knocking on his door asking him to stand, he was more than happy to do so, becoming the only person running against incumbent mayor Greg Lang.
"I think I'm insane," he said yesterday, "I thought I was done with politics."
Mark is no stranger to Carterton District Council, having served as mayor from 2010 to 2014.
He's also no stranger to politics, having spent almost 20 years as an MP for New Zealand First (1996-2008 and 2014-2020).
Busy on boards
He found success in his parliamentary career, becoming New Zealand First's deputy leader in 2015.
He was later appointed Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs in 2017, positions that were a good fit for his military career, which spanned nearly 20 years.
"They were my dream portfolios," he said.
But the party vote dropped in the 2020 election and Mark lost his seat.
He has remained busy with board roles, helping with humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, and assisting Carterton residents with council challenges.
Mark said he knew how great Carterton had been in the past, how great it was today, and what it could be in the future.
But he also knew how to make opportunities out of "the challenges in front of us now".
He had previously opposed supercity amalgamation plans but said the ground had shifted since that proposal, and Wairarapa councils were now likely to amalgamate "whether by force or happenstance".
"Increasingly, some political parties are pushing for central control over everything. Whether by asset stripping first or imposing more and more legislative requirements, it will happen."
He said with 2023 being central government election year, it was the best time for local government to make its demands known.
"People are worried about rates affordability, but I haven't seen any action.
"I hear about elderly people on fixed incomes who are unable to pay rates, and I worry about how that will affect the character of our district.
"Sure, rates have to go up, we know that, but rather than say the rating system is broken, as has been said previously, tell me what you have done to lobby the minister, to bring attention to the fact that the Local Government Act needs amending."
Mark said he "wouldn't be shy" to use election year to Carterton's advantage.
At a local level, if elected mayor, Mark said he would advocate for "better democracy".
"We also need a high level of scrutiny of council operations so that we never again have failed projects and cost blowouts of the nature we have witnessed in the past three years."
He said councillors needed to listen to residents and ratepayers who had taken time to submit to council plans, some of whom were retired and had a wealth of knowledge.
"They're not idiots. They are giving us the benefit of their experience."
He said the council also needed to "get away from vanity projects" and be pragmatic.
"If we are staring down the barrel of amalgamation, why are we looking at building new council offices?"
"We need better transparency, better democracy, an open ear to listen to problems, and rather than trying to bury them with lawyers, we need to deal with them."
When asked what personal attributes would make him a good mayor, Mark said: "Kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka - the kūmara doesn't speak of its own sweetness".
"I think people know me. Some people like me, some people don't.
"The one thing I'll always be is consistent. And I always tell the truth whether people want to hear it or not."
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air