By Felix Desmarais, Local Democracy Reporter
Tania Tapsell has claimed victory as Rotorua's new mayor.
A teary-eyed Tapsell told her supporters: "I just got a phone call to say I am going to be your future Mayor of Rotorua."
Rapturous applause shot up from the crowd, followed by hugs from family and friends.
People lined up to congratulate Tapsell.
"I really want to thank everyone."
"So now we can party," Tapsell joked.
Moments later, she announced that Sandra Kai Fong would be the Deputy Mayor of Rotorua.
Tapsell said Kai Fong was the highest-polling councillor.
Progress results for the election are yet to be officially released.
Tapsell, 30 is the first Māori woman elected to the role in Rotorua. The final results will be announced late next week.
The last Māori mayor was Harry Dansey, in 1941.
Tapsell said she had a lot of work to do.
"We have a plan and we need to start moving forward
She said she wanted to call all the successful councillors.
"It's very important that we have a functional council and work together so I'll be asking them what their top priorities are."
Tapsell's mother, Roana Bennett, said Tapsell was very humble and committed, and will bring "intelligence and energy and the dedication the city needs".
She said people did not see how humble Tapsell was.
"She carries a lot of humility with her.
"Tania has always been interested and politics and grown up in a political family."
Her father, Terry Tapsell. said he was "absolutely elated. So happy for her. She just works so hard."
"Pretty fitting she was successful. We're just absolutely over the moon."
Rival mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau confirmed he had received a phone call to say he had missed out.
"It has been a massive campaign. I am really proud of what I have done and I can't thank the people around me enough. I think it is important people put their hand up and be counted, and that is what I did."
Tabuteau, who was at home when he got the news, said he was soon to join his supporters at the Rotorua Novotel.
Tabuteau said he didn't consider standing for the council as he had a specific skill set and he wanted the top job. He said being on the council probably wouldn't have been enough for him.
Rival mayoral candidate Reynold Macpherson described missing out as "almost a relief".
Given the problems Rotorua is facing, in some sense I have dodged a bullet."
Macpherson said Tapsell got more than 10,000 votes in the last election so it was always going to be an "uphill battle".
Macpherson, who didn't stand for the council again, said the end of his time on the council wasn't the end of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers' group.
"We have been campaigning for nine years and it's not going to stop. It is a very strong and very active interest group and we will keep going."
He said the group's annual general meeting is being held in November and he was looking to step down.
"It's been nine years."
Council candidate Fisher Wang arrived at Tapsell's party
Tapsell yelled across the room with a very concerned look on her face "Fisher. Are you in?" And then hooted when he said he was.
Tapsell said Wang had been one of the hardest-working councillors "well done. Fisher"
Wang said he was honoured by the support from the community.
"And a bit speechless.
"We have a big job ahead. I'm looking forward to working with Tania and Sandra and working together as a council for Rotorua".
Rotorua MP Todd McClay arrived at Tapsell's event.
He said it was wonderful news and Tapsell had campaigned hard.
"I'm extremely proud of her and believe she will do extremely well for our district.
"I want to thank all of the candidates who put their names forward. They can be proud of their campaigns. They raised important issues and were professional and respectful.
Earlier, supporters steadily trickled into Tapsell's election party at Rotorua's Pullman Hotel - about 40 people, made up mostly of friends and family, including husband Kanin Clancy.
Tapsell, a three-term Rotorua Lakes councillor, announced her mayoral bid in May on a platform of stopping "the spend", building a safer community and "smart" investment.
Tapsell, who ran in the 2020 election as the National candidate for East Coast, is the great-niece of Sir Peter Tapsell, a former Labour Party Speaker of the House and cabinet minister.
Tapsell was unsuccessful in her bid for the seat, losing to Labour's Kiritapu Allan by 6331 votes.
Tapsell is Rotorua's 15th mayor, and was first elected to the council in 2013 at age 21. At that time, she was the youngest elected councillor in New Zealand.
At her campaign launch, Tapsell said she wanted to increase the council's spend on crime prevention and community safety to $1.5 million annually, something she will need to get a majority of councillors to vote with her on.
She also said she would spearhead an operational review of the council and if necessary, a restructure aimed at delivering better value for money.
Tapsell also wanted the council to invest in destination marketing and create a Rotorua development strategy aimed at enabling better housing and job opportunities.
During the term, Tapsell opposed the Rotorua reserves proposal and Three Waters reform.
Steve Chadwick, who has been the mayor since 2013, announced in 2021 she would not run again.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air