With amalgamation looming as an issue in this year’s election debates, I can’t help already wondering who some of the contenders might be for the ultimate Grand Poobah of Hawke’s Bay job, when it becomes available.

Who’s most popular today?

Although the most determined advocate of amalgamation is Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, he might be out-polled handily for the job by Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott (assuming she ultimately decides to “go with the flow” on amalgamation). Yule pulled 11,117 votes in Hastings in 2007; Arnott pulled 15,190 in slightly smaller Napier. Yule might pull even less in 2010 and Arnott even more … widening the vote gap between the two.

However, there are some other possible contenders to consider.

Neil Kirton, a supporter of amalgamation, won 12,739 votes as a Regional Councillor candidate in 2007, out-polling HBRC’s current Chairman Alan “It ain’t broke” Dick, who received 10,118 votes.

Indeed Napier is full of elected officials who have out-polled Lawrence Yule — Kathie Furlong, John Cocking and Tony Jeffrey (the last at least a former supporter of amalgamation) each won more than 12,000 votes in 2007.

DHB Board member and former Chair Kevin Atkinson would also need to be taken into account as a formidable region-wide vote-getter.

And this line-up excludes the region’s top vote-getter Chris Tremain, with 20,898 votes in 2008, on the assumption (which some dispute) that he’ll prefer to keep “whipping” the National caucus rather than HB “super-councillors.”

Personally, I believe there’s only one statesman-like course for Lawrence Yule to take, now that he’s presented amalgamation as a political and economic survival issue for Hawke’s Bay.

Putting the benefits he sees for the region from amalgamation before any personal ambition, he should endorse Barbara “If the people want it/me” Arnott as the first Mayor of Hawke’s Bay. What better way to reward her needed conversion and to win the votes of reluctant Napierites for amalgamation?

Lots of interesting scenarios here. It’s almost a shame we need to waddle through 2010’s election foreplay.

Tom Belford

P.S. If you missed Kathy Webb’s comprehensive BayBuzz Digest article on where the amalgamation issue stands today, read it here.

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