Failed Auckland mayoral hopeful Efeso Collins says his skin colour gave him a 20,000-vote deficit against winner Wayne Brown.
In one of his first interviews since losing his tilt at the city’s top job in October, the former Manukau councillor spoke frankly about how he thought his race played into the mayoral campaign.
Collins, who is of Samoan and Tokelauan descent, said research showed early on that voters were going to judge him negatively on race.
He would go on to lose the 8 October election to Brown by 57,000 votes.
“Some of our research groups came back and told us quite clearly that one of the biggest issues I would face is the colour of my skin,” he said.
“Unscientifically, as a team there was a number of people, internal to the team and outside, who said that’s at least a 20,000 vote deficit that you come in with,” he said.
“I thought ‘yep, cool, we can overcome those hurdles’.”
Collins said his campaign had to be careful about how he was being perceived. If he was seen as aggressive, he would have alienated a section of the population.
“For some people, a tall brown man represents something that makes them very uncomfortable,” he said.
Collins said he ran a non-confrontational campaign, in contrast to eventual winner Wayne Brown whose campaign core was attacks on Auckland Council and the boards of the council-controlled organisations.
His campaign tried to be open and personable by having meetings at cafes and door knocking, he said.
“That’s the difference for me … just talking to them in a very normal, personable way, shows that I’m not this big aggressive guy.”
Collins didn’t attribute his loss to race, but said it was one factor that made it more difficult for his campaign to win.
“In a modern society that we would consider fair and egalitarian, you wouldn’t expect this for me,” he said.
Collins said the abuse he faced on the trail was at a similar level to the rest of his political career.
He told one anecdote about a woman who met him on the campaign trail walking her dog and said she would consider voting for him, but found him too “aggressive”.
At one meeting, he said, someone called him a “black c…”.
Collins said he was wary to talk about race during the campaign, lest he be seen by some of the electorate as playing the “race card”.
“I don’t want to see people saying ‘he’s constantly pulling on the race card’, but that is a reality for me,” he said.
Collins said he wanted to show young people, particularly Māori, Pasifika and refugees, that they could be treated fairly and be a part of politics.
“The next step might be someone else of a refugee background, an ethnic background, who will get up and we will always look at the merit of that person and hopefully they won’t get the feedback I did that the colour of their skin or their religious background will be a challenge.”
Collins was not the only candidate who reported racial abuse or prejudice on the campaign trail.
A number of Asian candidates had their heads cut out of their hoardings in what they said was a “targeted” attack.
Mayoral candidate Ted Johnston, who is also of Samoan descent, had his billboards painted on and destroyed while other candidates’ hoardings nearby were left intact.
“I can understand how Collins felt, our people seem to have been targeted – there’s surely some over-zealous supporters,” he said at the time.
* This story originally appeared on Stuff
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz