Roald Dahl wrote, “Somewhere in each of us lies the power to change the world.” He may have been right, but few of us have the motivation, or the courage, to step in and steer the ship. Those running for mayor of Christchurch City in the upcoming local elections certainly do, and Frank Film decided to get to know the frontrunners.
At first glance, Phil Mauger and David Meates, the two main contenders for the seat of mayor, are quite similar. They are both middle-aged white men. But, while there may be no points for diversity in this election, both candidates actually have chalk-and-cheese character.
We joined Phil and David as they made us lunch and then visited their childhood homes.
Phil, 64, who grew up in North Brighton and lives in Avonhead, made souvlaki. He was under the close watch of his wife, Chrissie, who watched with some apprehension.
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“He doesn’t cook often,” Chrissie said, and helped him open the bag of wraps.
Phil explained that they had been in their family home for 20 years.
“It’s quite big, but we have nine grandchildren, eight of whom are under 9,” he said.
Phil is a Christchurch alderman for the borough of Burwood and, apart from his work as an alderman, has spent his entire life working and running the family business, Maugers Contracting Ltd. He left school in sixth grade.
When asked why he was running for mayor, Phil said it was because he knew he could make a difference.
“We have to make sure that [the grandkids] have a good place to live.
David, 61, who grew up in Beckenham, made scrambled eggs on fresh sourdough.
“I’m a really basic cook and I really like fairly simple food,” he explained.
David was cooking alone at his daughter’s house in Bishopdale while her house was being renovated.
“[I come from] a family of 10 children – I have eight sisters and I learned my place very early in life,” said David, who has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science.
He has worked as chief executive of Canterbury District Health Board (the South Island’s largest employer) and West Coast District Health Board, and said he was running for the town hall after being approached by a range of people looking for a different style of leadership.
“It’s in terms of listening and working with communities to solve complex problems,” David explained.
And what about the main issues concerning the people of Christchurch?
During lunch, we asked everyone a few quick questions. Their answers turned out to be a spotlight on the differences between them.
Climate change – are we moving fast enough? “Yes I think we are, we have the climate emergency, but we have to do things,” said Phil, who has made a name for himself (including going out with his shovel and digging a trench without permission in 2020) to “get things done.”
“Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the process,” Phil said of the trenching.
“If it had to be done over again, I would work hard with council staff to achieve this.”
“No,” David replied in response to the climate change question, “if it’s an emergency, we don’t act particularly quickly.”
The last book they read? For Phil, a few pages from Winning Elections by Ronald Faucheux. For David, Calling Bullshit by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, on the misuse of data, and Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky.
“It’s terrifying reading,” said David, who only broke his silence earlier this year on why he left Canterbury DHB in 2020 after 10 years as chief executive.
“We were going to have to compromise on cutting services, and to put it simply, I just wasn’t ready to do that,” he said.
Cycle paths ? David was a yes – but also said there were some that didn’t work, and we need to see why.
Phil also gave a yes, but not to the amount of money we spend on them. Both had cycled recently: Phil on his e-bike a few months ago, David citing himself as a regular cyclist.
In response to the results of a recent resident survey, which showed council approval ratings were the lowest in 15 years, their differences were once again apparent through their improvement strategies.
David spoke about his long history of working with teams.
“If you can create the right culture and the right environment, it’s amazing what organizations are capable of,” he said.
For Phil, the plan if elected is to go out among the people at least once a fortnight.
Both identify as Christians; David goes to church ‘periodically’, Phil ‘not much’.
Both hope their leaning neither to the right nor to the left will be remembered, with David citing his experience working with both.
We then asked everyone what the power of the mayor was. “One voice,” Phil said, “But it’s up to the mayor to get everyone pulling the rope in the same direction.”
For David, the mayor represents the moral authority of the community. “In terms of helping set the tone for how a group of advisers should work and operate,” he said.
The eggs were good. The souvlaki was good. We let you decide for the rest. Watch the movie on frankfilm.co.nz to see how the candidates answered the rest of the questions.