Wellington mayoral wannabes online

With a week to go until voting in this year’s the local body elections close, the turnout has been pretty low. The Dominion Post reported last week that just 13.28 per cent of Wellington’s 132,051 eligible votes had been received, down 2.06 per cent from the same stage three years ago.

Most of the mayoral candidates have websites, and I had a quick look at what they have to offer. Disappointingly, few of the candidates are putting much faith in participation with their constituents.

Mark McGrath has a blog on his beige website, but with the comments function turned off. A statement on the website simplys ays “The facility to write on my blog has been taken off but you can still email me.” Comments from the public, ie us the voters, are too hot to handle it seems.

In a glaring blunder, one post McGrath published under his name that he didn’t write or even read was later removed because he was concerned about some alledgely false statements about property developer Rex Nicholls. It’s not a promising start for encouraging democratic dialogue or credibility. A point in his favour: McGrath is open about his past, including acknowledging that he was bankrupted after two failed events in the early 1990s.

You can find a 1990s theme on Bryan Pepperel’s website. If you fossick around you’ll find papers Bryan wrote in 1995 making predictions about the future of Wellington. You’ll also find some vintage pictures of one of his hobbies, motorcycle restoration.

Although the discussion forum on his website isn’t attracting a lot of comment, it’s great that he is open to talking about this ideas and policies. Diving into the social media arena, Bryan has made a couple of election videos and posted them to YouTube. His secreat weapon clip has been viewed 68 times in the last three weeks. Not setting the world on fire, but pretty savvy nonetheless.

Single issue candidate Helene Ritchie shows some technical flair with her really fabulous photo presentation about the disruptive and perpetual construction on public spaces around Wellington’s waterfront. She’s encouraging people to “save the waterfront with your vote.” You’ll find Helene’s contact details, but no other way of interacting with her.

Current Mayor Kerry Prendergast, who is seeking re-lection for a third term, deigns to accept questions then write answers but they have a static, inauthentic feel. Who knows what has been asked, and what has been screened out? With just three questions published, it’s not exactly giving much feel for our current leaders opinions or personality. The airbrushed photo and excessive hyperbole, something web writing wizard Rachel McAlpine counsels against, suggest a victory of style over substance.

Paul Bailey, whose one page website is impossible to find using Google (hence the absence of a link), and Rob Goulden, whose promises remind of those of an appliance sales person, don’t do a lot for me, though their messages could be spot on for some audiences.

That leaves Ray Ahipene Mercer. Finding out about Mercer’s life history, including the lives of his tipuna, was really revealing. He’s into planting trees, clean water, rock ‘n roll, his Maori heritage, and diving. You get a really good feel for Mercer the person, not just advertising spiels like most of the other candidates. I suspect Mercer’s the sort of guy who’d prefer sitting down having a yarn, rather using online discussion tools (none of which are included on his website).

The Dominion Post is running an election special, which includes video addresses by all the mayoral candidates. I haven’t come across that many sites where the elections is attracting any comment. Perhaps I just can’t find it in cyberspace, or perhaps apathy is really setting in.

Unlike the United States presidential campaigners, led by Barak Obama who alone has over 125,000 MySpace friends, the Wellington Mayoral candidates are not using the web that powerfully. I can only hope the new incumbent does a better job of fostering democratic dialogue than the candidates have done online.

NB. The list of candidates whose websites I looked at was based on those listing a website in the election material mailed out. Did I miss anyone out?