POLITICS AS (UN)USUAL

“When the going gets tough, the weird go mad on Facebook.”

What a curious situation we have developing on the island as the voting papers drop into our letter boxes. Only last week I was mentioning that the race for Denise Roche’s vacated Local Board seat seemed somehow dull compared to the high passion fuelled frolics that accompanied the main event eighteen months ago. Indeed, the only whiff of skullduggery came from the closed doors meeting a couple of months ago that saw Roche anoint the ever eager Paul Walden as her successor of choice. But more on that later.

As this election begins to warm up, Waiheke voters find themselves once again left high and dry by their local ‘newspapers’ which both appear to have lost the ability to create any meaningful reportage on the election and have once again resorted to the lazy nonsense of sending each candidate a vague sort of questionnaire and allowing them to fill it in at their leisure, and, we assume, with the help of others.

Only Waiheke radio have managed to get to grips with the seven candidates, although even they let two slip away. I do urge you to listen to the five they did get though.

For myself, I have been meaning to get some thoughts and observations down on this fine site for a week or two but have been struggling to make any headway through the drizzle of dull stuff that has emerged thus far. All that changed yesterday as news of Graham Hooper’s public self disembowelment came through.

But once again, I am getting ahead of myself. Let us, dear reader, start from the beginning and see what we can recall of the events that have led us this far…….(Screen goes all wavy…….)

Before the results of the first Local Board election were even published in the spring of 2010 it was already being suggested that the incumbent Councilor Denise Roche might just possibly have her sights set a little higher than just a seat on the Waiheke Board and, at the following years general election might attempt to make her move into Parliament.

And so it proved.
But her decision to take such a step must surely have been helped by the marginalisation that she received from the other four board members as well as from the huge  show of support she drew from the public.

(If you are new to the island or unfamiliar with any of this background stuff then just go back through the posts on here and have a look at October and November 2010. That will explain quite a bit.)

So, Roche, proving once again that living well is indeed the best revenge, took herself off to the Beehive leaving her seat vacant. OR DID SHE? This is where things get a bit hazy. Rather than immediately step down and leave the way clear for one or two of the candidates who narrowly missed out last time to have another go, she drew the process out somewhat, clearly keen to have the maximum influence on the outcome of the by election. Fair enough I suppose. Given the treatment meted out to her by the rest of the board she was hardly going to miss a chance to make their lives complicated if at all possible.

So that brought us to the mysterious meeting between Roche and the rest of the previous left leaning candidates. I for one was keen to attend but was told that an invitation was not going to be forthcoming. Whatever happened behind closed doors we may never know, (although I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who’d like to spill a bean or two on that in complete confidence.) but any hopes that the narrowly defeated Andy Spence might be the perfect candidate this time around were quickly dashed as Paul Walden emerged as the chosen one.

Well, a contender on horseback always looks impressive, and Walden certainly has both the energy and the eloquence to make a decent go of it. His campaigning has been first rate this time around and his publicity material is by far the most professional I’ve ever seen used on the island.

But he is a divisive figure to many. Engage random Waiheke voters on the subject of the election and the sudden pockets of explosive resistance to him can be as surprising as they are vehement. Walden, it seems safe to say, can put backs up as easily as he can charm, and while many seem to see him as a natural front runner this time around it would not do to forget quite how organised the opposition to his election could get.

But we can come back to that. Right now let’s take a look at the other candidates. The first, and easiest to dismiss, is the unknown (but embarrassingly over hyphenated) Mary-Anne Benson-Cooper. Since she declined to be interviewed by Waiheke Radio, we are left with just her anodyne comments in the Marketplace which don’t give us much to go on. I’d be delighted to interview her, though I have to admit my first question to her would be along the lines of ‘Do you realise just how little time Waihekeans have for those who don’t actually LIVE HERE?’ so it might be quite a short discussion.

Then we have two new players, Tracey Mancer and Sue McCann. Both gave interviews on Waiheke Radio which revealed a decent grasp of issues like the Local Plan, the Esplanade etc, as well as the drive and ambition to have a go at local politics. However, while Mancer’s interview went reasonably well, McCann seemed to have done hers while in some kind of terrified spasm which left her sounding like a malfunctioning animatronic. Perhaps some basic media training might be required if she is to make a go of this politics business.

Then of course we have the former Community Board member Herb ‘Eyebrow Value’ Romaniuk. Another candidate who missed out last time around, he ran one of the least inspiring campaigns of the large field. His main approach was to mumble about; “Well, you know, I did this before….Wouldn’t mind doing it again I suppose…..Know the ropes and all that….Up to you really…….Erm…Hrhhhhm….”
While it wouldn’t do to entirely dismiss Romaniuk from contention I for one wouldn’t be putting any money on him just yet.

Now of course it wouldn’t be a local election with out the ever hopeful Allen Davies throwing his hat into the ring. This veteran ‘campaigner’ just can’t bear to think of a ballot paper that doesn’t have his name on it. Davies seems driven by the same strange urges that we see in spawning salmon. Never mind that it’s basically hopeless and will all end in disaster, time and time again he stands for election, hoping that somehow, this time around, Waiheke will finally understand what kind of towering statesmanlike figure they have in their midst.
This will never happen. I don’t mean to be personal here and this may come out as a little mean, but he is standing for election and this is supposed to be an analysis of candidates so I may as well say it out loud, Allen Davis is not a likeable man. On an island known far and wide for its easy going and informal ways, he is a stiff and uncomfortable figure who seems permanently in the grip of some tight lipped disapproval of everything around him.
Now I may be missing the real man but I somehow doubt it. I suppose it may be possible that, among friends, Davies is a jovial and amusing man, a boon companion who loves a beer or three and has a fund of racy and hilarious stories at his command.
But, having watched him through several election campaigns I feel that this is probably not the case.

So, while we are on the subject of candidates who never seem to get anywhere we come at last to Graham Hooper, who is, in many ways the complete opposite of Allen Davies. Where Davies is stiff and formal, Hooper is loose and informal to an amazing degree. He can certainly lay claim to years of passionate involvement in local matters. But, he is a decent and kind man and utterly unsuited to politics. His interview on the radio makes for uncomfortable listening as he fumbles and bumbles his way through simple questions with what appears to be a complete lack of any grasp of the issues. It is awful to listen to.

But then, Waiheke’s political Uber-Hippy suddenly went toxic over the weekend on the Facebook community page. With a venom that would be more suited to an American presidential primary, Hooper suddenly took aim at another candidate and let rip. The immediate torrent of shocked response from others, mostly suggesting that this might not be a good way to do things, only prompted him on to worse excesses. Moving on from negative campaigning, he then went on to do one of those silly “It’s all the MEDIA’S fault!” things, suggesting that while he and other candidates had to face the fearsome radio questioning of Chris Walker the terror of the airwaves, one candidate was allowed to get away with just a gentle gumming from the amiable Shirrin Brown and that this was unfair.

Well, this story seems likely to run and run. More soon, and keep up the comments!