Kerry Prendergast, former Mayor of Wellington, New Zealand

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Kerry Prendergast, former Mayor of Wellington, New Zealand:
Nursing has taught me
to listen and respond

By Brian Baker, Senior Correspondent

19 May 2010: Kerry Prendergast has been mayor of Wellington, New Zealand since October 2001. She has been elected three times, once under the first past the post system and twice under proportional representation. All elections drew respectable 40 per cent or more turn-outs.

Update October 2010: In October's local elections Celia Wade-Brown beat incumbent Kerry Prendergast by just 176 votes.

After a comfortable victory in October 2007 she announced that she would retire at the end of her third term in October 2010. She explained her third success by saying that her opponents had been unable to gain momentum in the campaign because there were no major issues on which they could hurt her. In March 2010 Kerry Prendergast changed her mind and said: “I have decided to seek a fourth term as mayor to ensure that there is ongoing confidence in Wellington’s direction, leadership and management of the council.”

Mayor Prendergast said that the current re-structuring of local government in the Auckland area which will amalgamate eight authorities into one was likely to have New Zealand wide implications. ”When the Auckland supercity is up and running we will be contending with a hugely powerful, influential, wealthy and demanding entity,” she says. “How much weight will the Government give to smaller councils or, for that matter, the rest of New Zealand, when the supercity is demanding attention?”

Her campaign is likely to focus on ensuring that Wellington maintains a strong voice on national issues and resource allocation and on increasing inner-city safety.

Mayor Prendergast has high profile critics but she has consistently enjoyed strong support from the centre ground of public opinion. She is sure that city leaders have an important role to play during the current unprecedented economic circumstances. “This is exactly the time that local authorities should be investing. Investment provides employment for sectors of the community, particularly construction, which will help them through the recession period.”

“We are looking at everything and, as always, being as efficient as possible but we must continue investing or the infrastructure will collapse.”

Priorities of her third term included several key capital schemes for public benefit. The refurbishment and extension of the City Art Gallery was completed in late 2009 and construction of the long desired NZ$50 million Indoor Community Sports Centre is underway. Key tourism attractions which have had upgrades recently include the Carter Observatory and the Wellington Zoo. Planning is well advanced for Wellington’s key role in the 2011 Rugby World Cup for which it will host seven matches.

Overall, her aim is to help ensure that Wellington is a great place to live and work and that its people can face the future with confidence.

“We must show that we have confidence in our cities and that these things are cyclical periods for the economy which we will survive. By maintaining employment in construction and trades we can also help prepare for the private sector taking off again because we won’t have lost large numbers of people to other cities and countries.”

She is leading efforts to expand the broadband network and on green capital initiatives.

Kerry Prendergast began her career as a registered nurse before beginning to practise as a midwife in 1976. Between first being elected to Wellington City Council in 1989 and 2001 she combined her work in midwifery with her work on the council. Between 1995 and 2001 she was deputy mayor.

“My profession has taught me that its about listening , about being able to hear what people are saying and being able to pick up on their body language. These are very important attributes for working as part of a team.”

She has never lost a local election but was defeated in her bid to become President of Local Government New Zealand in July 2008 by Hastings mayor Laurence Yule. Prendergast did win an election to serve as Vice President, her second period in this role.

Mayor Prendergast has served on the regional mayoral forum throughout her mayoralty and chaired it for the first six years and she meets with the chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council on a monthly basis. She also meets with the Prime Minister and other ministers in the national government regularly to promote strategic issues.

“I think amalgamation in the Wellington region is inevitable at some time in the future. Whether it is a ‘big bang’ approach or logical groupings like Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt city remains to be seen. We should all look at whether there could be a more effective governance structure in our regions following the report of the Royal Commission of Auckland governance.

She has attempted to position Wellington as a leader in addressing global warming and said in her re-election campaign that she wanted the city and community to work towards becoming the first green national capital city in the world. Mayor Prendergast attended the Climate Summit for Mayors in Copenhagen in December 2009.

“We wanted Wellington to be the first green capital because it made economic sense. If you reduce energy usage you reduce costs and reduce reliance on non-sustainable forms of energy,” she says. “It is also a good marketing tool for tourism and we are receiving clear messages from corporate CEO’s that they need to provide the right environment, including green environment, for employees and potential employees.”

“We have found that reducing emissions is difficult in our own organisation. From 2002, when we started measuring to 2007 emissions went up. Its not as easy as we initially thought and it will take wholesale local government, government and community support to get significant change”

“We have tried to increase our already high levels of public transport use and walking and cycling and are introducing incentives to encourage use of non fossil fuels including preferential parking and re-fuel facilities for electric cars.”

Kerry Prendergast has a MBA from the University of Wellington and is a director of Wellington International Airport and a trustee of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts.

Her support for the creative industries has been one of Mayor Prendergast’s steadfast attributes and is one she says has given her a particular sense of achievement.

“We have had a good deal of success in marketing Wellington as a place for creative people and creative industries,” says the mayor.

Amongst the schemes in which she was involved in her first eight years of leadership Kerry Prendergast feels the greatest sense of achievement in her work to re-connect the harbour and the city – a link broken, as elsewhere, by first industry then major road infrastructure.

“Three things stand out which between them can be said to connect to three vital elements – environment, arts and youth. One is achieved with the  delivery of the art gallery along with our success in increasing the number of big festivals and other events staged here and another by finally getting our 12 court 30 code sports centre built. I expect it to be fully used from the day it opens.”

“Greening the waterfront route and changing it to somewhere more pleasant and easy for pedestrians to cross was very important. It enhanced the image of the city as well. It took a year and included creating a two metre wide median strip and planting 52 Maori Princess pohutukawa trees.” 

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