I remarked to a friend this morning that if the Wellington mayoralty is determined by the number of times Tory Whanau’s photo appears on the Dominion Post website, she’s a shoo-in. The other candidates might as well go home.
From the time the paper reported her campaign launch in June with a massive splash of publicity – one that could be described as unprecedented for a candidate virtually no one outside the Green Party had heard of (note the four photos, plus a video) – Whanau has been given the type of exposure her rivals can only dream of.
Today the Dom Post website featured not one but two stories simultaneously about the Green Party-backed candidate, both accompanied by prominent photos. The stories concerned a petty spat with fellow contender Paul Eagle over the placement of billboards, so were of no great consequence, but when I checked at midday one was the lead item on the website. Whanau’s face was the first thing readers saw.
If you accept that facial and name recognition are crucial in local government elections, especially when voters often have little else to go on, Whanau may have a head start even against putative frontrunner Eagle, a former deputy mayor who became Labour MP for Rongotai and now appears to have had second thoughts about the wisdom of that career move.
You can see why the Dom Post loves Whanau. She’s young, Maori, female and Green; the dream woke candidate. Eagle ticks only one of those boxes, and against that, he’s a bloke.
But is the Wellington mayoralty Whanau’s real objective? The above-mentioned friend, who’s a lot more politically savvy than I am, speculates that the true purpose of her tilt at the mayoralty is to build her profile with the aim of securing a high place on the Greens’ list in next year’s general election.
It’s called doing a Chloe, after the Green Party wunderkind who made a well-publicised bid for the Auckland mayoralty in 2016, subsequently got on the Greens’ list at No 7 and was ultimately rewarded with the Auckland Central seat.
In fact if Whanau really is modelling herself on Chloe Swarbrick, I wonder whether she might have her eyes on Wellington Central. She’d have to elbow aside the party’s 2020 candidate, James Shaw, but anything’s possible with the Greens. And it’s worth noting that Wellington Central (aka Woke Central) was where they won their biggest share of the party vote in 2020, with 30 percent – far higher than the 19 percent support achieved in Swarbrick’s constituency.
Whatever Whanau’s strategy, she can only benefit from the apparent undeclared endorsement of Wellington’s daily paper. What the steadily diminishing number of Dom Post readers might think of it is another matter.