Two high-profile Wellington Māori race for mayoralty

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Labour MP Paul Eagle is no stranger to local government, having served as a councillor, then being elected as the first Māori deputy mayor of Wellington in 2016.

But now he is running for the capital's mayoralty, he’s found new competition from former Greens chief of staff Tory Whānau (Pakakohi).

Both are politically savvy and both are keen to sort out some longstanding issues impacting Wellingtonians.

Whānau says water infrastructure is in a bad state and supports the Three Water reforms to deal with the issues, whilst acknowledging that there are everyday issues impacting the people of Wellington such as housing.

“[That's] well as providing a home, giving people access to alcohol and harm reduction services as well as mental health, and of course it is no surprise climate-friendly policies to really deal with those challenges,” she says.

Eagle (Waikato Tainui) wants to "restore the mana" of Wellington and return the city to its former glory.

'Wellingtonians expect more'

“We want to make sure our pools and parks and the public transport are world class. We used to be and Wellingtonians expect more.”

Both agree public transport is an issue and both commit to alleviating the problem for commuters.

There have been six Māori elected as mayor in New Zealand’s history. Of those, only one was a woman.

Whānau believes diversity in leadership is key.

“I think it is incredibly important. Our councils are known to not be that diverse. So I think being a Māori or a wahine Māori, especially at the top, will be incredible for our country and our people.”

Eagle says his experience in local and central politics makes him the ideal mayor.

“What I bring is new leadership and a stable, safe pair of hands. What Wellingtonians have said to me is we need someone who has been to Parliament, been in local government, been a councillor and deputy mayor. but is also there with the people,” he says.

'Tough' competition

Reflecting on a recent survey that showed almost half of elected local body members face some form of discrimination, Whānau says it is a sacrifice she's willing to take.

“As a candidate I've already received my fair share of abuse and racist comments. I've always seen this type of role as a public service role - you make some sacrifices to make it easier for people in the future”

While avoiding speaking to the prospect of Whānau’s being elected Eagle did acknowledge the "tough’ competition" and recognition that this election would not be easy for him.

The two Māori candidates are also competing against Ellen Blake, the Wellington coordinator of Living Streets Aotearoa; Ray Chung, founder of the Onslow Residents' Community Association; Chris Dudfield, architect; Andy Foster, incumbent mayor; and Barbara McKenzie, founder of the Wellington Significant Natural Areas (SNA) Committee.

Whether Justin Lester, who was defeated as mayor in the last election by Andy Foster, will stand is not yet known.