Local body elections: Vince Cocurullo on being mayor and realising a 33-year-old dream

New Mayor of Whangarei Vince Cocurullo on his vision for the region. Video / NZ Herald

Becoming Whangārei’s new mayor means realising a three-decade-plus dream for Vince Cocurullo.

“A school friend reminded me yesterday, soon after I was elected, that I told him and others at Pompallier College when I was 15 that I wanted to be the mayor of Whangārei,” Cocurullo, 48, said.

Cocurullo was elected mayor on Saturday after receiving almost a third of the district’s 28,000 mayoral votes, according to preliminary results.

That 15-year-old Cocurullo went on to become a civil engineer, and the comment he had made as a Year 11 student at school faded into the background.

In 2005, having to recover after contracting mercury poisoning from fillings in his teeth brought that mayoral dream back to the forefront. In 2007, he had his first tilt at standing for mayor and as a councillor, getting elected as the latter.

“The effect of mercury poisoning was really bad for me – it was like I had Parkinson’s disease,” Cocurullo said.

Recovering gave him the impetus to try a new challenge.

“I thought, ‘Why not? Life is for living’.”

He stood for the mayoralty again in 2010 and 2013, then finally, for the first time successfully, this year.

Cocurullo was, on his first full day as mayor, volunteering at the 2021 Rugby World Cup in Whangārei.

His first full day as mayor coincided with the tournament’s first day and three matches between Japan-Canada, USA-Italy and Scotland-Wales.

Cocurullo was on the volunteer media team, offering IT help and support. Outside the Rugby World Cup venue for his Local Democracy Reporting Northland interview halfway through that first full day, a steady stream of wellwishers pouring into the venue, called congratulations, greeted Cocurullo and shook his hand.

Cocurullo celebrating with family and friends on Saturday night. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Cocurullo celebrating with family and friends on Saturday night. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The six teams playing on Sunday served as an example for his new role.

“The games are about bringing all sorts of people from all over the place together and them working as teams.”

Volunteering has been a passion of his for years.

In Whangārei, that has included working at the Rugby World Cup 2011, the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, and the British and Irish Lions’ tour.

Overseas, it has included working in Yemen, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe and Zambia, working on projects such as software development for aid agencies. In Tanzania, he helped build aeroplanes to fly aid agencies into remote parts of the country.

Cocurullo comes to the mayoralty with a WDC code of conduct complaint brought by then-Mayor Sheryl Mai against him around a 2019 breach of confidentiality. This was upheld, in part, by independent investigation, with councillors in a majority vote in July 2020 deciding that a breach of the code had occurred. It was deemed to be at the minor end of the scale.

Cocurullo still denies that he breached the code.

He said the upheld complaint did not mean he was untrustworthy – the contrary applied, and he could very much be trusted as mayor.

Cocurullo is married to Lee Cocurullo and is proud as punch of the district in which he grew up.

People are among his biggest passions.

He said holding fast to WDC’s position against the Government’s Three Waters plans was the first of five key focus areas in his new role.

Creating a graffiti-free district and improving people’s sense of safety comes next in his top five priorities.

Then there was working more closely with the community.

Infrastructure is Cocurullo’s fourth key focus area and includes pensioner housing. That segues into the fifth: Northland’s kia kaha campaign, focused on bringing Auckland’s port to Whangārei, and with that, four-laning State Highway 1 and building a rail spur from Marsden Point to Whangārei, along with boosting the rail line south to Auckland.

The New Zealand Navy dry dock was also part of this campaign.

Cocurullo is in favour of Auckland’s port coming north, and said shifting it to Whangārei would bring huge growth.

“I don’t think people realise how much,” Cocurullo said.

He already has a call into Auckland mayor Wayne Brown, who is widely known for wanting the port out of Auckland.

Cocurullo said having a mayor in Auckland with strong Northland connections would help build links between the top-of-New Zealand locations.

He said the port’s shift north could not happen without government money. Community support was also required.

Infrastructure also included supporting Whangārei’s new hospital build.

Cocurullo is a former Northland District Health Board member, asked to stay on with Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand as the local community voice for those building Whangārei’s new hospital.

The results:
The new-look WDC is Mayor Cocurullo; Bream Bay General Ward’s Ken Couper, Phil Halse; Hikurangi- Coastal General Ward’s Gavin Benney, Scott McKenzie; Mangakahia-Maungatapere General Ward’s Simon Reid; Whangārei District Māori Ward’s Deb Harding, Phoenix Ruka; Whangārei Heads General Ward’s Patrick Holmes; Whangārei Urban General Ward’s Nick Connop, Jayne Golightly, Marie Olsen, Carol Peters, and Paul Yovich.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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