Where I went wrong

It’s almost as much fun to pick apart one’s own predictions as it is to make them in the first place.  Here is where mine went wrong:

1.  I greatly overestimated the solidity of the A-Team bloc voters.  Based on previous election results I had estimated the size of the A-Team bloc at 1145, as against 1249 for Essentially Waiheke, and I gave both blocs an 80% solidity (meaning 20% of each flock would break ranks on at least one of their candidates).  Maybe my reading of the Essentially Waiheke group was close, but I was way off for the A-Team.  Their solidity was more like 60%; the other 40% broke ranks.  Sue McCann and Shirin Brown were the main beneficiaries of the A-Team weakness.

2.  Voter turnout was quite a bit higher than I had anticipated.  Essentially Waiheke benefited some from this as their bloc was clearly more motivated, but it was the independents — again, Shirin and Sue — who gained the most, as the non-aligned voters didn’t sit this one out.  Thus both were pushed well ahead of the A-Team.

3.  I underestimated the value of Essentially Waiheke’s indirect endorsement of Shirin.  I guessed it would be worth 75% of the EW bloc vote; in fact it was at least 85%.

4.  I gave Faye Storer good credit for name recognition, and took points away from Jo Holmes for strident use of social media, leaving Faye to look calm and above the fray.  As it turns out both of their performances were poor, with only 62 votes separating them.  Don McKenzie, who I thought would be the weakest of the three A-Team candidates, outpolled both of his partners.

5.  I overestimated Graham Hooper’s appeal to the A-Team bloc for their fourth and fifth votes.  I thought 60% of these would go his way; in reality it was more like 20%, and that landed him deep in last place.

6.  I thought Beatle Treadwell would outperform Paul Walden with the independent voters, due to Paul’s history of sometimes pugnacious advocacy.  In fact Paul’s behaviour on the board has been quite statesmanlike this past year, even in his role as a minority of one; and his appeal with the independents, far from weighing him down, has pushed him into first place.

7.  I saw John Meeuwsen as this year’s recipient of the “Nobilangelo Effect”, the tendency of voters to be attracted to an articulate new voice, and that Becs Ballard would be the weakest of the four official EW candidates.  But Becs ended up outpolling John by a hundred votes, and if there was a Nobilangelo this year, it was Shirin Brown who outshone them both.

The lessons of my errors, and of the Local Board election in general, are that Waiheke voters clearly want a stronger advocacy on the part of their local representatives, and that they want more input into the board’s decision-making.  The outgoing board has been effective in many areas, but those areas have been chosen by themselves rather than by consultation with the community; and the community has now pointed this out.  In a way, the election is a rejection of the supercity in which the A-Team candidates have made themselves such experts.  Faye Storer can take some fair credit for helping the entire city to define the treacherously vague relationships between the local boards and Auckland Council, its ponderous bureaucracy and the ill-named “Council-Controlled Organisations”.  The irony is that history may well remember Faye more kindly on the isthmus than on her own island, where a smoothly-running metropolitan juggernaut is exactly what we don’t want.

The challenge for the new board will be to balance the community’s expectations of activism with the practical imperative to get things done.  The mandarins of the supercity may well look upon our election results with suspicion and recalcitrance, perhaps even malevolence; yet as long as the fate of our fair island is yoked to Rodney Hide’s atrocity across the water, some degree of Faye-ness in our dealings with said atrocity is going to be necessary.  Otherwise all our advocacy will be nothing but empty posturing.

Unless, of course, we were to ditch the whole supercity idea and go our own way.  Hmmmm…

On a limb

Alan Knight threw down the challenge some days ago:  Who will dare to predict the outcome of the current Waiheke Local Board election?  In the tradition of inrushing fools, here goes:

The first task is to estimate the size of the A-Team and Essentially Waiheke bloc voters, those whose ideological commitment drives them to vote for a party line.  To do that we need to look at the 2010 and 2012 election results.

In 2010, as many observers remarked, left-leaning votes outnumbered right-leaning ones but were scattered amongst so many Greenie contenders that only one of them got onto the Board.  In that election 3857 voters partipated, casting an average of 4.43 votes per person out of the 5 permitted.  Thus there were 17,104 votes cast.  If we add up the votes for Denise Roche, Andy Spence, Paul Waldon, Marijke Ransom, Dorte Wray, Colin Beardon, Ewen Sutherland, Charissa Snijders, and Millie Watkins, we arrive at 8722 votes or 51.1% of the total.  At 4.43 votes per person, that’s about 1969 Green-leaning voters.

On the other side, Faye Storer, Jo Holmes, Don McKenzie, Jim Hannan, Herb Romaniuk, and Graham Hooper took 7797 votes, or 45.6% of the total, representing about 1760 A-leaning voters.  I’m making some simplifying assumptions here, and ignoring some candidates entirely as ideological unknowns, but the political split that emerges looks suspiciously like the 53-to-47 split in 2011 over the Esplanade closure.

By 2012 the left side was united behind Paul Walden, who took 1154 of the 2791 votes cast, or 41.3%.  The other side is harder to measure, as not much was at stake for them; but if we take the two candidates who are now endorsed by Jerry Flay (Graham Hooper and Sue McCann), plus Herb Romaniuk, we come up with 1101 votes, or 39.4%.  Voter turnout was lower, but the totals still show a rather close ideological divide, with the left side still slightly larger than the right.

Projecting these numbers forward, let us assume that (1) voter turnout will be about midway between 2010 and 2012, or about 3249 voters; (2) the size of each side of the ideological divide will also be about midway between its 2010 size and its 2012 one; and (3) about 80% of each side will cast their votes in a bloc, for all of the candidates in one team or the other.  The other 20% will split their votes, either because they have reservations about one or more members of their preferred team, or because (like George Washington) they oppose party discipline in principle.  Add these to the voters who genuinely have no ideological preference, and we have a sizeable group of independent voters.

Following those three formulae we arrive at 1249 bloc voters for the Essentially Waiheke team, 1145 for the A-team, and 855 independent voters.

The trick, then, is to guess how the independent voters will behave.  Two important principles here are that name recognition means a lot, and that many independents are such because they dislike the stridency of the two blocs.

One complicating factor is that the A-team bloc voters will still have two votes to play with after they’ve ticked the three required boxes.  I’m picking that 35% of these votes will go to Sue McCann; 30% to Graham Hooper; 17% to Richard Melville; and the remaining 18% won’t bother.  On the EW side, there are four official candidates, with Shirin Brown “endorsed” as an unofficial fifth.  I’m picking that Shirin will get 75% of that fifth EW vote, with the rest divided between Ross Gillespie and Sue McCann.

So, on with the show.  And the winners are:

1. Faye Storer:  1658.  That’s all of the A-team bloc plus 60% of the independents.  Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  Faye has by far the best name recognition of the pack, and her deep knowledge of the city bureaucracy and its inane processes impresses many.  No one else will come close to her appeal with the independents.  The irony is that now she will know what it’s like to be the top vote-getter, but not be chosen as board chair.

2.  Beatle Treadwell:  1591.  All of the EW bloc plus 40% of the independents will vote for her.  Again, name recognition as a carer in the community will be all-important.  Her quiet advocacy will go a long way with the independents.

3.  Paul Walden:  1506.  He’ll get all of the EW bloc and 30% of the independents.  Paul is an EW champion and his name recognition is high, but it won’t benefit him as much as it does Beatle because of the baggage he carries.  (For example, no golfers will vote for him no matter how Greenie their political leanings might otherwise be.)

4.  John Meeuwsen:  1463.  John will benefit from this year’s “Nobelangelo effect” — a fresh face articulating reasonable-sounding arguments, on whom people are willing to take a punt.  A quarter of the independents will vote for him, in addition to the EW bloc.

5.  Jo Holmes:  1444.  Name recognition is high, which will earn her 35% of the independents.  The score would have been better except for her willingness to play the heavy in the A-team’s good cop/bad cop game.  Independents don’t like stridency.  She will nonetheless be reelected.

6.  Becs Ballard:  1437.  The EW team figured she’d be this year’s Nikki Kaye, but I don’t think it will quite work.  Despite an energetic campaign her name recognition is low.  She’ll get less than a quarter of the independents and will just miss out.  In other words she’ll be this year’s Andy Spence.

7.  Don McKenzie:  1401.  Everyone likes Don, but see my earlier OneWaiheke article for the reasons why I think his electoral support will wane this year.  He will still gather 30% of the independents, but it won’t be enough.

8.  Shirin Brown:  1219.  It’s probably just the rumour-monger in me, but I’d love to get a straight answer as to why Shirin “decided she was happier running her own campaign” (in the words of the Essentially Waiheke website).  EW’s sideways endorsement of her will give her 75% of the bloc, and her well-run campaign will gather a third of the independents, but the numbers will fall well short.

9.  Sue McCann:  1140.  I’m picking that Sue will garner 70% of the A-team bloc, 10% of the EW bloc, and 25% of the independents.  I may be underestimating her name recognition and the appeal of her quiet, independent manner, so she might do better than this, but she will not come close to getting elected.

10.  Richard Melville:  828.  Richard has great appeal with the independents (fully half will vote for him), and may pick up 35% of the floating A-team votes; but most of the bloc voters will ignore him as just not nasty enough to be an effective politician.

11.  Graham Hooper:  773.  60% of the A-team’s floating vote will come his way, but only 10% of the independents will take him seriously.  Stridency will be a big problem here.  This will nonetheless be his best showing ever.

12.  Ross Gillespie:  316.  A serious tree-hugger, he’ll earn 15% of the EW floating vote, and a similar percentage of the independents.  But he’ll still place last.

So that’s it, folks.  I’m out on my limb.  Anyone care to saw it off?


Who’s the ventriloquist?

In case you’ve just returned from Saturn, there was a debate on the Island last Saturday that nearly ended in bloodshed, albeit of the broken-nose variety.

The debate itself was all good fun, with a delightfully ambiguous outcome, but a comment made by Bruce Davis-Goff during the negative side’s closing speech provoked one listener to threaten physical violence unless Bruce “shut the hell up”.  Bruce’s comment is worth analysing in some detail, because like much of his humour it combines a deep contempt for political correctness with a sharp political commentary.

Early on during the debate, Denise Roche described her affirmative team as “the A-Team” — a label laden with irony, as none of the three affirmative debaters could remotely be described as supporters of the “A-Team” currently running for the Waiheke Local Board.  It was an irony that did not escape Bruce’s tender attentions as he began his closing speech.

Pretending to confuse the two A-Teams, Bruce made reference to the slick, overphotoshopped billboard promoting the candidacies of Faye Storer, Don McKenzie, and Jo Holmes presently gracing the kerbsides of our island.  The production values of this billboard are curious.  While the waxed smiles and precise hairdos make Faye and Jo look youthful, energetic and happy, the same cannot be said for Don.  Instead of portraying him as focused and articulate, which is how he comes across in person, the image makes him look detached, weak, perhaps stoned.  The billboard can have an eye-catching, slightly disturbing effect, especially for someone who doesn’t know Don is blind; and I’m sure that’s exactly what its designers had in mind, on the principle that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Bruce quipped that his eight-year-old was “still in therapy because she came around the corner and saw the A-Team poster.  She did ask me, ‘Is that one in the middle a ventriloquist?'”  Making fun of a blind man’s appearance was too low a blow for the punter who threatened to disrupt the proceedings, but it contains the following kernel of truth.

What the child meant, of course, was not that the “one in the middle” looked like a ventriloquist, but that he looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy.  The ventriloquist is the one who controls the puppet and gives it voice.  And from a political point of view, one can argue that Don has abandoned his own voice in the service of the A-Team party line.  For those who have concerns about the direction that the present board has been taking us, this is a bad thing.

Bruce’s comment also goes to the heart of the A-Team’s election strategy, and this I think explains the apoplectic reaction to it (since removed) on Jo Holmes’s blog.  The A-Team understand that their present control of four of the five board seats was a fluke of the 2010 electoral landscape and that, even if public opinion had not shifted in the interim, it would be unlikely to recur this year.  Therefore they have wisely selected their three strongest personalities and have discouraged other rightward-leaning candidates from diluting their efforts.

Their opponents on the Essentially Waiheke team, meanwhile, started out with three candidates (Becs Ballard, Beatle Treadwell, and Paul Walden); have since taken on a fourth (John Meeuwsen); and now “endorse” a fifth (Shirin Brown).  Their efforts are thus less focused but more diverse.  If most Waiheke voters are ideological bloc voters, the Greenies have the better chance.  If they are pick-and-choose voters, the A-Team have a tighter scrum line.  Faye is calculating that we are a pick-and-choose bunch, and she may be right.

If, however, one of the team turns out to have a weaker appeal than the other two, then even a pick-and-choose electorate may return only two of the A-Team members to the board.  This is where Bruce’s comment is sharp.  Faye and Jo were elected in 2010 because everyone knew who they were and where they stood politically.  Nobody was surprised when they turned into a team.  Don, on the other hand, was elected based largely on his extensive community service; he has been involved in community organisations for decades and would have been expected to bring his unique experiences and concerns to the political world.  Instead of revealing a unique voice, however, both he and Jim Hannan gave themselves up completely to the us-versus-them dynamic that took hold immediately after the 2010 elections.  In other words, they became “ventriloquees”.

So the question on which the entire election may turn is this:  Has Don, by offering up his voice, also compromised his own electoral appeal?  In my opinion he had the best shot of any of the board members at statesmanship.  I voted for him in 2010 based on that promise, and I suspect that many of his 1377 other supporters did too.  We might have hoped that he would at least try to reach across the ideological divide during his three years in office.  Instead, he took sides.

Regardless of whom you blame for the divide, that’s a pity.  And whatever you may think of Bruce’s style of humour, he nailed this one.


Alan’s article on “Turf Wars” is well-spoken, as always.  I would, however, make a distinction between the wealthy lawyers, developers and sports stars who actually want to live here, to be part of the island, and those who only seek to maximise profit from their ownership of land here.

The former are responsible for the gentrification of Palm Beach, Church Bay and such.  If they end up overwhelming the aging hippie population and remaking the entire island in their own self-satisfied image, well, I personally will be sad — but they did nothing that we didn’t do.  The Rocky Bay hippies took over their paradise from a bunch of retired World War I veterans from Panmure, who I’m sure bleated about the loss of neighbourhood character.  The veterans had taken it from the O’Brien farmers, who had taken it from Ngati Paoa, who had taken it from Ngati Maru and so forth.  Turf wars indeed; the argument of prior occupancy cuts many different ways.

On the other side are the profiteers, like the owners of the atrocity at Wharetana Bay.  These are not people who want to “live their island dream” or participate in island life in any way.  They want only to sell Waiheke’s charm as if they had had a hand in its creation.  They are parasites in the most literal meaning of the term: disposing for their own benefit of an asset that someone else has created.  Their position is morally indistinguishable from theft, systemically indistinguishable from infection.  They do not seek to remake the island, but to consume it.  They intend to ingest it as it is, and once the maximum profit has been chewed out of it, to spit it out and move on to the next unspoilt paradise.

So, how to deal with these two groups, each of whom threaten the island’s character in very different ways?  The first group, those who live here, are a social and cultural challenge, and must be handled in social and cultural ways:  Give them a personal stake in the preservation of the island’s unique qualities.  Invite them to enjoy the many walks and special places that Waiheke has to offer, or to join the Historical Society, or to drink an island-brewed beer.  They are human, and were drawn to the island, whether they understand this or not, by a charm whose survival cannot be taken for granted.

The second group, the parasites, could not care less about the long-term survival of the island charm they seek to consume, any more than I cared about the long-term survival of the banana I ate this morning.  Parasites can be dealt with in only one way: antibodies.  These work by neutralising an invasive agent’s ability to pilfer nutrients from its environment.  Short of actual violence, the only way to get this done here is through restrictive laws.  Since our Rodney Hide-designed supercity will never implement anything of the sort, Waiheke’s future depends on its political independence.  We are not talking about a cultural challenge here; the danger of the parasites is physical, not social.  Once Wharetana Bay has been destroyed, it’s gone forever, or at least for all of our lifetimes.

The same can be said of our entire island.  There is a great monetary incentive for profiteers to turn all of Waiheke into another Gold Coast or Miami Beach, a wasteland of absentee-owned vacation rentals heavily marketed to those who prefer their beaches endowed with the familiar noises and smells of urban crowding.  The only way to block that nightmarish future is to make it unprofitable, and to do that we shall have to take control of our own political destiny.  Regime change on the Local Board?  Sure, that’s a feel-good tactical move; but as long as we remain under the parental gaze of the supercity, no number of Paul Waldens will permit us to rescue the island we all love.

One way forward

In an earlier comment, I referred to Faye Storer’s assumption of the chair of the Waiheke Local Board as a “coup”, and I’m not the only one to use that term.  On reflection, however, the word is not accurate, because it implies that someone else — Denise Roche, for example — had prior claim to the position.  This is not only untrue, but I think it distracts us from the real problem of the so-called coup and its aftermath.  As Denise herself has said many times (and repeated during Saturday’s interview with Shirin Brown on Waiheke Radio), the urgent issue is not the decisions taken at that infamous Thursday meeting, but the way in which those decisions were made.

Even though any objective analysis of last month’s vote would show greater popular support for Denise than for Faye, the board chair is not elected directly.  Faye has the numbers on the board; it was clear from the first results that Denise would never be chair.  If we need to assign blame for this disconnect between direct and indirect democracy, it is, as is so often the case, because one side’s votes were fragmented and the other side’s weren’t.  Consider this:  The reason we have Len Brown as supermayor instead of John Banks is that Mike Lee refrained from running and splitting the progressive vote.  If Denise’s supporters had shown similar restraint, the makeup of the Local Board would have been very different.  Let us keep this in mind for 2013.

So Denise is not going to chair this board, and no amount of irate comment, petitions, threats to disrupt meetings, not-so-veiled references to scorching, or facile appeals to Len Brown or the Local Government Act is going to change that.  What the people of Waiheke should be upset about, as Denise is upset, is the manner in which Denise has been excluded from participation in board decisions.  Denise does indeed have a mandate from the voters, a stronger one than any other individual on the board.  Due to the same disconnect between direct and indirect democracy that brought Faye to the chair, Denise finds herself representing, alone, the views and interests of a much larger segment of the population than any of the other four board members can lay claim to.  Jim Hannan, in particular, should bear this in mind, as he watches his hair-thin margin over Andy Spence subjected to a recount.  Even if he survives, he will owe his position far more to the chance mathematics of vote fragmentation than to any voter mandate.  Thus Jim’s talk of “core support” is vaporous indeed.

As I’ve said before, there have been two serious errors committed in the past couple of weeks.  The first was to use the Thursday meeting to humiliate Denise, with unnecessarily hurtful declarations of lack of confidence, and false ones of lack of mandate.  The second error was John Stansfield’s call to arms.  Each error has served only to inflame the other side, harden positions, and guarantee that any compromise will be very difficult to achieve.  The best suggestion I’ve heard so far is to have a facilitator sit down with these scrapping children and teach them how to work together.  Unfortunately the suggestion was made by Denise herself, and will therefore be seen as a political ploy and ignored by the other four board members.  I wish the suggestion had been made by someone respected by both sides, such as Mike Lee or Len Brown — or, even better, another board member like Don McKenzie.

Barring that, the only way forward I can see is to revisit the allocation of board portfolios, and to do this in a very public manner, preferably before the Saturday swearing-in ceremony.  Denise has expressed interest (that I’ve heard of) in civil defence, the Recreation Centre, and social services.  Offer her two or three of those, and do so in front of the cameras, so to speak.  If Denise refuses the peace offering, let her do so in public.  If Faye’s well-circulated typed sheet becomes law as is, and Denise’s only participation is to have her nose rubbed in it, then the protesters will have their day, and they will be right.  The Local Board will be discredited as a vehicle of personal vendetta; its voice will carry no weight; and every right-wing opponent of the delegation of supercity powers to the local rabble will point to Waiheke as proof of their oh-so-wise counsel.