Ahead of the hotly-contested Auckland mayoral election, the RNZ First Up team wanted to get an idea of who the main contenders are and what their visions are for the city.

Auckland mayoral candidates Wayne Brown, Efeso Collins and Craig Lord.

Auckland mayoral candidates Wayne Brown, Efeso Collins and Craig Lord.
Photo: RNZ / Supplied

So over the past couple of weeks, producer Matthew Theunissen has met up with the mayoral front-runners at locations of their choosing for some kai or a cuppa and a catch-up.

One of candidates, Viv Beck, pulled out of the mayoral race on Friday saying she wanted to avoid splitting the centre-right vote with Wayne Brown, but three front-runners remain.

Brown said he became an engineer because only one person in his huge whānau had been to university and that was a cousin who had become an engineer – “so at least I was aware of it”.

“I liked construction and I worked to pay my way, as a student I worked as a concrete labourer then a steel fixer and then a welder and so I had a natural aptitude for construction.”

The firm Brown and Thompson Consulting Engineers was still going, he said.

Brown became known as “Mr Fixit” after becoming chairman of the newly formed Northland District Health Board.

“They didn’t expect much but we were the first DHB to break even and deliver all of its services and so that catapulted me from you know a group of senior accountant type, PwC types, as the one guy who had got everything fixed.”

Brown was also chair of the Auckland and Tarawhiti DHBs and has headed a number of other large organisations including TVNZ, Transpower, Vector, Maori TV and the Land Transport Safety Authority.

Brown won the Far North mayoralty in 2007 and said he left the region in a much better condition than when he took office.

But he lost the 2013 election in a landslide following a dispute with his own council about rates charges owed by one of his companies.

In 2019, Brown led a review of Auckland’s port which recommended shifting much of it to Northland but this was rejected by the government.

Brown said he was not a natural politician and placed himself roughly at the centre of the political spectrum.

“I kind of go with competency and I thought Helen Clark was very competent so I was Labour and I thought John Key was very competent, so I thought I was National.”

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Collins mostly grew up in Ōtara though he did spend a couple of years in Samoa and was the youngest of six children.

Money was tight and his father worked as a taxi driver and a church minister while his mother was a cleaner, he said.

“Finances were always a challenge cause one of the things I remember was whenever there was real stress in the house it was over money.”

Collins spent a couple of weeks at Auckland Grammar but it did not suit him and he returned to Ōtara’s Tangaroa College.

He wrote about that when he was studying for his masters degree in education.

“My dissertation was on brown flight and it was a reflection of my decision to school, or our family’s decision for me to apply for schooling outside of Ōtara and it was during that period when people often said schools in Ōtara weren’t very good and so you had to go outside and that’s why I reflected on that.”

Collins said politics had always been a part of his life and his mother had been a union delegate while his father often challenged the church.

“I saw a real social justice advocate in my mother and I saw an excellent communicator in my father.”

Collins has been endorsed by the Labour and Green parties, as well as by out-going mayor Phil Goff.

Collins said he would have a community based style of leadership and aimed to get the council operating so everyone was part of the team approach.

“I don’t want to be at every ribbon cutting, I don’t want to be the only one on the news, this is how you share and delegate to the team.”

Free public transport is Collins signature policy and he said that would help to tackle the climate crisis, connect up the city and keep money in the pockets of those who need it most.

Collins said he is satisfied with the proposed 3.5 percent rates increase for Auckland, at least at this point.

“As we head into the long term plan I will have to present a mayoral proposal and it’s at that stage where I’ll be able to say to Aucklanders – here’s the vision and this is what it’s going to cost us, are we prepared to increase rates?

“If we’re not, and we’re going to get that feedback from Aucklanders, then it’s got to be coming from, either we borrow a bit more, we reduce the level of development we’re doing or infrastructure development or we cut services.”

Any decision on rates would only be made with consultation, he said.

The now 50-year-old engineer-turned-broadcaster said he left home in Tauranga at 15. He rode his motorbike up to Auckland to go for a job interview in an Auckland workshop.

“I rode up to Auckland by myself, went for the job interview in the morning, they rang me that afternoon and said ‘if you want the job then it’s yours’ so I rang Dad and said ‘mate I’m leaving home and I’m moving to Auckland’.”

He stayed at Dynamic Hydraulics for 16 years working his way up the ladder ending up as general manager.

Asked why he thought he would make a good mayor Lord said his engineering background gave him common sense, while experience as a freelancer in broadcasting gave him an ability to communicate well.

Lord was critical of council spending saying it was “just shelling out money hand over fist” and he believed he could reign it in.

“Treat it like your home budget and if you can’t afford to do something you don’t do it, you prioritise with what your spends should be and then you make trimmings where you need to.”

One of the best ways to make these cuts was by reducing the use of contractors, he said.

His approach to climate change is a contentious one and he is critical of spending on the climate crisis.

New Zealand’s emissions amount to a small percentage of the global total, Lord said.

Free transport had nothing to do with emissions, Lord said.

“It’s inefficiency that stops people using the public transport, not the price.”

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