Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Hucker pulls out

As I predicted a long time ago, Bruce Hucker has failed in his bid to become mayor of Auckland.

It’s unfortunate. Hucker has the kind of skills that Auckland needs most. No, I’m not talking about smoothness, business sense, obstinacy or simple-minded plain speaking. I’m talking about his other career as a senior lecturer in planning at the University of Auckland.

New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, is decades behind when it comes to simple things like robust planning rules and regulation. Auckland doesn’t even keep an official list of its heritage sites. Whole buildings are built without public input and with a minimum of inspection. Without enforceable design guidelines, this city has some of the most horrendous architecture in the western world. Auckland has only barely begun to contemplate what growth will really mean for its future. And worst of all, the city has no public transport system worth mentioning.

To quote mayor John Banks, it’s pathetic.

Recent polling results have forced Bruce Hucker to pull out of the mayoral race. So-called liberal and progressive voters appear to be mollified with meusli king Hubbard’s paternalistic cereal-box Christian platitudes and willingness to listen. I’m not.

The blame lies in a few key places. Bruce Hucker’s campaign suffered from terrible strategy and some of the worst P.R. I have ever seen. It doesn’t look good for the left vote in Auckland that its mayoral candidate went spiralling down to a humiliating defeat before being able to complete a totally ineffective campaign for control of New Zealand’s largest city. What went wrong?

Well, here's a theory. For a long time, Aucklanders have tried to maintain the fiction that there are no party politics in this city, even though it is obvious that this is not the case. As a result, the left vote has been reluctant to really get itself organised, for fear of offending voters and activists who might object to the intrusion of Labour into the municipal environment. But that same lack of organisation meant that Bruce Hucker could campaign for mayor independently of the City Vision ticket. He didn’t have to win support from City Vision members, he didn’t have to undergo the scrutiny of a nomination race and crucially, he didn’t have the opportunity to build the profile that such a race would have afforded him.

Left voters didn't get an opportunity to endorse a mayoral candidate. And Hucker didn't get the buy-in that he needed from City Vision supporters.

So City Vision, and the left in Auckland generally, have put themselves in a position where they endorsed Bruce Hucker’s campaign without really supporting him. And now they’ll have to pick up the pieces. It doesn’t look good for City Vision now that their candidate is down, and as much as they’d like to console themselves with Hubbard’s loafers, he just isn’t the candidate that a left party should be supporting.

Surely Auckland is big enough to support an independent party of the centre left that is mature and confident enough to run a full slate of candidates, including one for the mayor’s seat. God knows, it’s ugly enough.