About 1:30 Saturday afternoon my wife Brooks took a call from the Regional Council’s elections officer, Carol Gilbertson, who reported that I had not won election to the Council. I was at the transfer station at the time.
So I got the bad news when I returned, and we settled in for a gloomy afternoon.
But later in the afternoon, about 5pm, I began to get calls and emails congratulating me on winning a seat, with one supporter pointing out these were “later” returns being reported on the official elections website. So I took a look, and sure enough, there I was in third position, winning a seat!
A phoenix rising from the ashes. But which numbers were right?
It took about half an hour to track down Carol, during which time hopes ascended.
Only to be dashed again when I reached Carol, who reported that her original numbers were correct, and that the website people had mis-entered one digit, giving me 1000 more votes than I had won.
Back to losing.
As it now stands, with some special votes to be counted, my 8,584 votes fell 935 votes short of getting me elected. But I can claim to have been a winner for 30 minutes!
What are my takeaways from this campaign?
1. The paper balloting process is agonizing. Once it begins, as a candidate you are more or less left twisting in the wind. This year, half the ballots (11, 165) were returned by the half-way mark in the balloting window. Then returns slowed down. Then 7,000+ ballots were returned in the last four days, reaching 22,230 returns.
During this period, with no way of knowing who has – or has not – voted, there’s not much a candidate can do that could be effectively targeted. Your signs are up; your leafleting is done; the 2-3 sponsored candidate ‘debates’ are generally over in the first week; you’ve placed some adverts. If you’ve actually been able to identify some of your supporters, you can urge them to evangelize on your behalf. And you can try to be visible around the constituency and get mentioned in the newspaper.
But mostly you sit and wait. I’d much rather organize a campaign against one day of reckoning and face voters interested enough to get themselves to a polling location.
2. An endorsement. As a relative newcomer to the region, 90%+ of the 8,584 people who voted for me have never met me. So I take from that they did not vote for me because I was their nephew, or their doctor’s spouse, or their old school mate, or from a fine Hawke’s Bay family … and certainly not because I had warmed a council seat for 12 or 15 years without incident. Instead, they voted for me because of what they understood me to stand for.
And I’m thrilled to get 8,584 votes on that basis. I will do my best in the weeks ahead to reach out to as many of those voters as I can (as well as my unable-to-vote supporters in the Napier constituency), and find ways to represent their values and aspirations for the Bay.
3. Playing the man. Speaking of relative newcomer, for all their whinging about “playing the ball, not the man,” my opponents did a vigorous (some might say hypocritical) job of playing the man. In my case, a man they termed too new (to be telling us natives what to do), an outsider, (worse) an American, a draft dodger, a Johnny-come-lately, and even a member of ‘an American cult’. In other words, he’s undeserving and dangerous.
Even as a relative newcomer, my network was wide enough to pick up and report the whisper campaign.
Now I don’t mind being considered dangerous. Indeed it’s true. When it comes to threatening the status quo and mindless drift, I’m as dangerous as they come. The undeserving part? Well, I’m comforted that 8,584 voters feel otherwise.
Those are my main takeaways.
Going forward? No comments made during the campaign or since persuade me that campaigns are not meant to be about personal performance and accountability. Or that elected officeholders should not be judged on that basis throughout their term of service.
The reality is, if these people held real jobs, they’d be evaluated over and over on their individual performance. Just like most of you reading this are. Only by our Councillors is being held accountable for performance viewed as a subversive and mean-spirited concept.
So I guess for some Councillors, the good news is … Belford lost.
However, for the same Councillors, the bad news is … BayBuzz didn’t.