City Council & Regional Council (Environment Waikato) election results from Hamilton yesterday showed that voters were a little grumpy - but not very!
Whether candidates did well or not had more to do with how good/expensive a campaign they ran, coupled with their name recognition in the city, and a decline in support for the negative Hennebry 'Rates Control' group.
Obviously, new Mayor Julie Hardaker did well to come from a long way behind and take the prize on the day - she campaigned very well, with very good timing and very good targetting of messages and voters. She was seen to be an energetic campaigner and - for those wanting change, or grumpy with rates, etc. - a much more sensible choice than the negative Hennebry group.
Apart from Glenda Saunders, all sitting City Councillors were returned (albeit some narrowly), with the 'new' Councillors being returning previous Councillors Martin Gallagher and Ewan Wilson - both of whom ran good, and expensive, campaigns in the West Ward to capture the two 'vacant' seats left by the departures of Kay Gregory and Joe Di Maio.
Margaret Forsyth was the only new 'Rates Control' candidate elected - clearly her personal name recognition from sporting circles played a much larger role in her successful East Ward campaign than did the 'Rates Control' tag. In the West Ward, the best performing candidates were Ronnie Philips and Tania Hennebry - both personally well-known for their radio and WEL Energy Trust work, while the other less well-known candidates in the Hennebry grouping were miles behind. Even team 'leader' Roger Hennebry suffered a drop in support in both the Mayoral and East Ward votes.
On EW, Lois Livingstone made it back easily as a Hamilton rep, and Paula Southgate topped the poll - both a big turnaround from the 'Rates Control' capture in 2007. The Hennebry faction vote dropped significantly and one of their 3 Councillors lost her seat.
Conversely, in rural areas where the negativeness of 'Rates Control' was less well-recognised, this team did well, with the exception of the South Waikato, where the hard-working Norm Barker staved off a joint attack from 'Rates Control' and Federated Farmers. This leaves EW in an interesting position, with 6 'Rates Control' members and 6 more positive independents - it is predicted by this column that some of the more realistic 'Rates Control' rural Councillors will be attracted to a more centrist position and be willing to work with an independent majority.
A clear majority of supporters for the passenger rail link between Waikato and Auckland were elected on both Councils (new Waikato District Mayor Alan Sanson has also signed the 'pledge), so it will be interesting to see how that one pans out.
Clearly the ongoing issues with the CBD - the physical upgrade, and how more businesses and life can be attracted, etc. - will need to be a focus for the City Council in the near future.
One lesson for Hamilton is perhaps that 'teams' or 'tickets' don't work and aren't viewed as open and inclusive by many of the public. Another is that public bodies need to take the public with them more - hearts & minds stuff - when they are getting into big or new projects, and need to make sure they practice what they preach when they talk about responsibility and accountability.