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First wāhine Māori elected to Tāmaki Makaurau council to meet new colleagues and mayor

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New Whau councillor Kerrin Leoni will meet Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown today. Photo / Whakaata Māori

Kerrin Leoni (Ngāti Pāoa, Ngāi Takoto, Ngāti Kurī) is a wāhine on a mission after making history by winning a seat on Auckland Council.

Auckland’s newest councillor had an anxious wait for confirmation, with the final results not being confirmed until Saturday – a whole week after early results showed she trailed incumbent Tracy Mulholland.

Progress results on Monday, however, showed she had taken the lead but, with 3000 votes cast on the final day of voting, it was a nervous wait.

“We still had to wait for the specials to come through and that wasn’t announced till Saturday. So it was definitely nerve-wracking waiting for those final results for Julie Fairey and me but, obviously, once we got them on Saturday, we were just so relieved. Now we can just get on with the mahi,” she told

Her election and that of Fairey in the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa Ward means the council will have an 11-10 lean in favour of the left. But Leoni says in local government, issues don’t tend to be fought along party lines.

“On a number of the really big decisions such as to do with climate change and the 10-year plan a majority of the councillors actually voted for those. There are a lot of big decisions being made where, regardless of what side you’re sitting on, the councillors have been working together to have a shared vision and goal.”

Councillor Kerrin Leoni will meet new Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown today. Photo / NZME
Councillor Kerrin Leoni will meet new Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown today. Photo / NZME

She will meet the new Auckland mayor, Wayne Brown, today for the first time. And, despite Brown being depicted as a centre-right candidate, Leoni has been told he can be very apolitical and she will go into her meeting with an open mind, looking for common ground.

“I do know some people that do know him and have given me a bit of insight on his working style. So I think that’s a good place to start.

“My second masters degree is on international politics in economics. So I’m very much a big fan of building the economy for Auckland after Covid-19. Looking at infrastructure right across Tāmaki Makaurau, we know that there are still significant issues and transport links.

“We know that the issues around ram raids and rangatahi have been really significant over these past few months, and so I bring all that experience as well. One of the things that were fed back to me during the campaign is around a youth hub in Whau and building up resources around support networks for our rangatahi. These are just some of the things I’ll be putting on the table.”

Leoni has forged a career in social work in Aotearoa and in the UK where she lived for nearly a decade. She runs a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on leadership opportunities for Māori and Pasifika rangatahi. Each year two are chosen to travel to London for 10 months of work experience. She is excited about what her election to the largest council in Oceania means for the rangatahi she works with.

“I think we just have to continue to break those glass ceilings that we know have existed for many, many, many years. As long as we continue to look at strategising and working together to break them and be confident that we can break them I think that’s the most important thing.

“We also have to ask ourselves, what spaces have we not been into and leadership roles and look at moving towards those roles and continuing to make those pathways for our next generations. If we can break through those things, they can follow behind.”

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