The National Party led campaign to win control of the Auckland Council at the next election is stepping up a notch with one high profile candidate believed to be ready to announce his candidacy shortly.
The well-known “Listener” Columnist broadcaster and PR consultant, Bill Ralston, who lives in Ponsonby, is believed to be considering standing in the Waitemata Ward.
Ralston is not making any comment on the suggestion but it is expected he will make a formal announcement within the next few weeks.
The Waitemata Local Board includes the Auckland central business district (CBD) and fringe retail and commercial areas (including Newmarket), and the inner city residential suburbs of Westmere, Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Parnell.
It also includes the Gulf islands, Waiheke and Great Barrier. The current Councillor is Mike Lee who represents City Vision/Labour and who has been a persistent opponent of the Crown Controlled Organisations and of any plans to privatise them.
He is understood to be considering retirement.
Mr Ralston was a Northcote Borough Councillor from 1974 – 77 when he represented Labour. He was one of the youngest Councillors elected.
However since leaving TVNZ where he was head of news and current affairs and then Metro where he was editor, deadline, the company he founded with his wife, Janet Wilson, has become heavily involved in providing media and strategy advice to several National Government MPs including Auckland Central’s Nicky Kaye and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennet.
Ms Kaye, with Paul Goldsmith, is one of two National Ministers behind a move to form a new centre-right block on the Council which will have more discipline and organisation than the current group of former Citizens and Ratepayers and independent Councillors.
It is understood that there is some debate within the national Party as to how this group should be supported.
Caucus have apparently made it clear they don’t want the new group to brand themselves National.
And it is unclear how much support might come from the party’s Board but the original plan was to tap into National Party financial and campaigning resources.
What is clear is that the Government desperately wants an Auckland Council it can work with.
Though Mayor Len Brown recently told the party’s annual conference that he looked forward to working with the Government on a Transport Accord for the city, the Government appears to be stalling.
Simply, Ministers say they want to know from the Council how tis plans will ease congestion in the city but so far they have had no formal response.
Similarly Housing Minister Nick Smith was astonished to find that once the Council’s Unitary Plan’s housing decisions were evaluated it appeared that they would lead to the construction of only about a third of the houses the Council claimed.
Mr Ralston is likely to be only the first of a series of big names the new group will be nominating for the Council.
And there remains the question of whether they will stand a candidate for Mayor.
With Labour’s Phil Goff all but certain to stand the centre-right would need a strong candidate to beat him.
Former Telecom CEO, Therese Gattung, has been mentioned but she appears to have received a lukewarm reception from within the party.
There are suggestions another big name is in the wings.
But what all this activity indicates that the old days or the moribund Citizens and Ratepayers’ Association are over.