Moko Tepania, 31, may have to wait until Friday to find out whether he is the Far North’s first Māori mayor. Photo / Tania Whyte
The 31-year-old te reo teacher currently leading the race to be the next mayor of the Far North is excited at the prospect of becoming the first Māori to lead the district — but he’s not celebrating until the final results are in.
In the progress results released on Saturday six-term councillor Ann Court had a narrow lead over her closest rival, Moko Tepania.
When the preliminary results were released late on Sunday, however, their positions had switched with Tepania taking a slim lead.
The gap between them was reportedly just 247 votes at that point.
The progress results include votes cast by 5pm on Friday while the preliminary results include Saturday morning’s last-minute rush.
The final result will include special votes, each of which must be individually verified. That process started on Monday and could take until Friday to complete.
In the meantime Tepania is declining interviews and resisting the urge to celebrate.
He did, however, say he was feeling “pretty excited”.
“I don’t want to celebrate prematurely. I just have to be patient and wait until the final results become clear,” he said.
If Tepania is elected to the top job he will make history.
He would be the first Māori mayor of the Far North and the youngest mayor, by a significant margin, ever elected in Northland.
Whoever wins, the new mayor will lead a council with a majority of Māori members — another first for Northland.
The tight mayoral race also means an emotional roller-coaster ride for some council candidates.
In the progress results released on Saturday, one-term councillor Rachel Smith would have held on to her spot at the council table because Court’s elevation to the mayoralty would free up one seat in the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward.
If Tepania wins, however, Court remains a councillor and Smith is out — but Māori ward candidate Babe Kapa moves up a place and gains a seat at the council table.
Smith described the see-sawing results as “a bit of a bittersweet rollercoaster”.
“To be so invested in your mahi, and to your community, it’s hard not to feel a sense of dread. I was only just getting started, and there is still so much to do,” she said.
“But on the other hand, Babe is a great friend and mentor to me. Moko is one of my closest friends, and the person who I believe is the right one to continue to progress our district, with his strong, inclusive leadership. I know that the right democratic outcome will eventuate this week, but the waiting game is pretty tough,” Smith said.
Tepania and Smith have both played key roles in Local Government New Zealand’s Young Elected Members Network, which works to boost youth participation in local government.
Kapa said he was also on tenterhooks waiting for the final result.
He had retired from a senior management role at Te Rūnanga-ā-iwi o Ngāpuhi so he could focus fully on the council role if he won.
“Part of me wants to celebrate, another part is saying, ‘Let’s not get too far ahead’. At this stage I’m just waiting until the final results.”
Court earlier told the Advocate the result was “just too close to call”.
“The STV [voting system] is new to all of us, and it’s making it a very interesting learning curve. We’re just not going to know until they finish counting and checking.”
The long-serving councillor deliberately kept her celebrations low-key on Saturday night because the results were so close.
According to Sunday’s preliminary results — which may change once special votes are added — the newly elected general ward councillors are Ann Court, Kelly Stratford and Steve McNally (Bay of Islands-Whangaroa), John Vujcich (Kaikohe-Hokianga) and Felicity Foy and Mate Radich (Te Hiku).
The Ngā Tai o Tokerau Māori Ward councillors are Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, Tāmati Rākena and Penetaui Kleskovic, with Babe Kapa expected to join them if Tepania is confirmed as mayor.