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Dialogue: Maybe candidates should try e-mail

October 8, 2001

There are two unopened letters hanging around in my in tray. One reads "IMPORTANT - Annual General Meeting information inside". It's from an insurance company which from time to time sends me these very presumptuous letters suggesting I should care who runs their company, and that I vote for people for their board of directors despite my ignorance of the candidates and my disinterest in becoming further involved. Why can't they just work it out for themselves?

This letter sits atop an envelope from Auckland City, which reports that it has "Voting Papers Enclosed".

I trust I am not the only citizen and ratepayer in Auckland who is not inspired to rip open the envelope and start voting.

Surely, the vast majority of Aucklanders under the age of 40 have little motivation to cast votes for mayors and councillors, since they have no real idea who these people are and what they stand for, let alone the different functions of the city council or the regional council.

And how many can really make a considered decision as to who should be on a District Health Board? (Apart from Susan Devoy, of course, who is a sure-fire winner because her dazzling track record grants her our unconditional adoration.)

We have heard that the fate of candidates in these local body elections will depend on their stand on the public transport issue.

But since both sides of the debate seem to be quoting mysterious and convincing overseas studies to back up their argument, who knows what to think?

I am sure that the few voters who purport to have an informed viewpoint on road versus rail are as uncertain of the consequences as they were when they jumped on the MMP bandwagon a few general elections ago.

Of course there may be a flicker of interest from the great unwashed when it comes to who should be mayor. It's a concept even the uninformed can grasp - they remember famous mayors such as the Mayor of Gotham City, who works closely with the police chief.

But I am sceptical whether the chosen one will get through for the right reasons.

Like others, I am guessing that it will be John Banks in mayoral chains waving at crowds from a convertible at the Santa parade this year.

My reasoning is that he is someone we have heard of, his surname is well favoured alphabetically and he has a personality which, despite some finding it repellent, will help his chances.

Christine Fletcher may steal a few votes, of course, since people have heard of her and when people feel unsure, they hate change. She also has a winning smile and, as one of my friends put it, seems really nice.

I think Matt McCarten may do well in my area, mainly because I seem to remember his billboards going up first, before the roadside clutter.

Thus, as the early bird, he's assured of a few worms. (Of course, when I first saw his grainy mugshot on these lone billboards I assumed it was a 40th-birthday prank for some bloke in the neighbourhood.)

My cynicism is not about questioning the quality of candidates in local body elections, who are most probably an earnest and experienced lot, but their failure to connect with a huge bunch of Auckland voters who could be and should be making informed votes but are underwhelmed by the whole affair.

One could blame voter apathy on the younger generations but I blame the insistence on using the same old techniques to woo the same old voters. This leaves the rest totally disconnected.

Lifestyles are changing. We post less, courier more. We find e-mails more convenient than the telephone. And we certainly haven't got the time or inclination to attend public forums.

We open e-mails, not letters from the council that closely resemble bills. And why cram our roadsides with small placards that frankly say nothing? What do they expect - that we will kerb-crawl to see what's on offer?

The first thing the next mayor and the new wave of elected councillors should address is the fact that there are fewer and fewer Aucklanders who believe they can make a difference to the city.

Even my own dad revealed that he was one of the handful of people who voted for Camp Mother for a bit of a laugh last time round. I was shocked. This is the sort of thing my friends do - not Dad! What's Auckland coming to?

Like many others I know, I love Auckland yet feel distanced from those who represent it. Just another huge gap that needs to be closed.

By SANDY BURGHAM, Copyright © 2001, New Zealand Herald


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