Bell ‘quietly confident’

Neck-and-neck . . . Gore mayoral candidates Ben Bell and Tracy Hicks have just 13 votes between them, with special votes yet to be counted. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

Whether youth or experience triumphs in the Gore District mayoral election will come down to the very last votes.

Preliminary results released at the weekend have newcomer Ben Bell (23) just inches ahead of six-term mayor Tracy Hicks (70).

Mr Bell is on 2346 votes and Mr Hicks on 2333 votes.

With the remaining 67 special votes to be counted tomorrow, it is still anyone’s race.

In his 18 years of mayor, Mr Hicks said it was the tightest contest he had ever been involved in.

‘‘It’s certainly been an interesting election — quite different to anything I’ve had in the past.

‘‘I’m a little surprised, but I was very aware in the last three years, not just what’s happened in council but across the country, it’s a very unsettled electorate we live in.’’

Mr Bell, whose mother Rebecca Taylor was the council’s former regulatory and community services general manager, said he knew it was going to be a close race.

‘‘Everyone’s been saying it was 50-50 and I guess everyone was bang on.

‘‘I think we’ve got a divided community regardless, so I think whoever gets in has a big job on their hands about pulling the Gore District back together and going in one direction, because we seem to be going in two separate ones at the moment.’’

As the election had gone on, Mr Bell knew there was an appetite for change out in the community.

‘‘I was quietly confident,’’ he said.

‘‘From a lot of people not knowing me and coming all the way through to at least half the voter population wanting me in — that’s incredibly humbling.’’

Mr Hicks said elections throughout the country seemed to be following a particular pattern.

‘‘The message seems to be that no matter where you’re domiciled, people would like to see some change.’’

His opponent was a ‘‘fresh face’’.

‘‘The choice people were faced with was really chalk and cheese, both in terms of demographic and local government experience,’’ Mr Hicks said.

‘‘Democracy is democracy and we’ll see what happens at the end of the day.’’

While the mayoralty is still uncertain, the race for council has been more definitive.

Four new faces will be joining the council, with three councillors stepping down and Nick Grant failing to retain his Gore ward seat.

In the Gore ward, Paul McPhail was elected with 1667 votes and Robert McKenzie with 1431.

In the district-wide ward, Keith Hovell was elected with 2212 votes and Joe Stringer with 2639.

Mr McKenzie and Mr Stringer both ran with Mr Bell under the Team Hokonui ticket.

The Gore District saw 4794 votes cast with a voter turnout of 52.65%, excluding special votes.