Former Waikato Times reporter and failed Mills & Boon novelist Geoff Taylor wants to go from deputy mayor of Hamilton. Aimie Cronin questions him over coffee.
gEoff Taylor’s mug seems to be visible around every corner in Hamilton. The deputy mayor arguably had no ambitions to run for mayor in the next local elections until a year ago, but he is all for it now. Like all candidates who have to sum up their campaign slogan with that one billboard pose because most Hamiltonians won’t bother to learn a single thing about them, he’s off for a casual hand on the hip, a smile like he’s having a conversation over sausage at a barbecue, a purple shirt that says I live my campaign slogan and I make things happen.
On the corner of Clyde Street and Galloway in Hamilton East, Taylor’s face has been cut out by vandals, presumably used for something lewd further down the road, but his purple shirt is still there, glowing. “The purple shirt!” he says. “That’s my favorite shirt!” He got it from Hallensteins. He likes to show up at speaking engagements wearing the purple shirt in front of a big screen image of him wearing his purple shirt and apparently it’s become a bit of a joke where people are shouting, “Ahhh! The purple shirt! He seems happy.
I worked with Geoff Taylor at Waikato weather. He started his career there in 1999 as a 34-year-old political journalist and says it turned him into a “nasty little man”. He went on to cover various other tours which restored his humanity and was an associate editor when I met him as a newly trained journalist in 2011. There was nothing mean about him then. When he left The Times in 2014, I asked him if he was going to try to become mayor one day, he was exactly that guy: charismatic, approachable, a bit elusive. You could imagine him bursting out laughing at a dirty joke behind closed doors. He laughed at my prediction like they always do and said he was considering becoming a teacher.
“I knew it!” I tell him as we have coffee eight years later. He says that when he and his wife Julie, a nurse, set the budget for the teachers’ college and subsequent entry-level teacher salary, they found they couldn’t afford it. So he started a business with his good friend Richard Walker called Long River Press, writing business memoirs and books and joined the board in 2016. I remembered he also wrote romance novels at night when he came home from his day job at Timetrying to get published by Mills & Boon.
“I sent one in and it didn’t get published,” he says. “It’s really difficult to be published, especially for a man. I put too much sex into it, like, man sex, that was probably the end of me.
I tell her that I’ve tried to read Mills & Boon to fall asleep at night and usually end up throwing them across the room.
“I love them,” he whispers.
“All women are virgins!” I say. “I read them screaming, ‘Why couldn’t any of them have sex? “”
“I don’t remember,” he said. “It somehow escaped me.”
He says he had his wife read his drafts. “She was very nice, you know, she didn’t say they were shit.” I got her to help me with the sex scenes. I said, ‘What would a woman want, because I have no idea.’
“I hope that wasn’t the first time you asked me that,” I said. He bursts out laughing, clapping his hands as if to say, you got me.
“It’s not just romance,” he says, “I want to write loads of other books, once this turns into custard.”
Why is Geoff Taylor running for mayor? He enjoys his work as a writer and seems to be doing quite well, supplemented by his salary as a Hamilton City Councilman. He says Hamilton was once “an ambitious, confident, growing city…we got to where we are by supporting each other and doing shit, being independent and fearless.” He pauses for effect. “We are not now. That’s why I’m up, really. The last three years have felt like a government department that has to ask permission from the office. He lists the issues, many of which are national: high-rise buildings in the suburbs (he’s for them in the CBD, but no further), security (he thinks we rely too much on the police and need to increase our numbers of City Safe employees and get to know each other better with weekly barbecues planned on every street), Three Waters.
His take on current Mayor Paula Southgate’s management of Three Waters is the linchpin of Geoff Taylor’s mayoral sale: he casts himself as the man who would have fought like hell against Three Waters and Southgate in as mayor who failed to take a hard line against the government at every opportunity. After our coffee, he writes in an email:That she’s now suggesting that she never supported the Three The Waters model is comical. The mayor sat on the fence for a year when our council could have taken a strong stance to lead the national debate. His refusal to consult with residents, as I requested in August 2021, effectively excluded city residents from the debate and backfired, because when the government produced the final legislation, residents had no only two weeks to express themselves.
Southgate, in her first term as mayor and running for re-election, says she has always had concerns about Three Waters and has repeatedly pushed back against the government, without success. Her approach is collaborative, that’s what she’s talking about. Taylor says she should have taken a tougher stance. “Flex your muscles! Show some frontier spirit! he says at one point. He says Southgate should have rallied other towns to join forces (she says she tried), ‘now it’s going to be really tough and the only thing that’s going to turn the tide is a national government that repeals it if they have the courage. Taylor says he will vote National in the next election.
Jaylor wants to tell me about the other element of its Making Things Happen campaign, which turns the city on the river. For him, it is the role of the town hall to allow developers to get involved and get things moving: apartments, shops, a regional theatre, a sports center and a pedestrian walkway. “If I am elected, we will not recognize the seafront in five years. I can tell he loves those dramatic one-liners, maybe that’s the writer in him, maybe that’s the politician. I smile suspiciously at one point. “I really believe in everything I do on the board. I wake up in the morning thinking about the river project, honestly.
I want to know what made him such a mean little man when he covered politics at Waikato weather. It seems to be a combination of dealing with too many career politicians and attending too many meetings. “And the nature of it all is that it’s a power game, isn’t it, so…”
I observe that he is right in the middle.
“Yeah, and I do it because I have cool ideas and I’m excited.”
He says he is calmer now than before. “How should I say? I don’t drink much anymore and that calmed me down. I’m healthier, I made a lifestyle change there.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but he likes to credit the “common sense barbecues” he regularly hosts around town for helping to keep him grounded. He promised he would try to prosecute them if elected, saying he or his fellow advisers would be in attendance every month. He wonders if getting to know each other face to face could reduce crime, among other things. “Imagine if we had a barbecue on every street, every month, and maybe a community garden, maybe a library box, maybe a compost heap, a hangout where we’re all offline for a moment.”
I ask if people showed up.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah yeah yeah!”
I ask how many sausages he takes (he doesn’t eat them because he’s a pescatarian and never remembers to get vegetarian ones in time).
“Two bags of 40. Sometimes you can have 20, but sometimes you can have 70 or 80.”
I ask if people come to complain about the board.
“Most of them don’t,” he says. “People like to talk about skyscrapers in the suburbs, trees, speed, weeds. I was really pleased with people’s responses.
He says that when he takes his Jack Russell, Charlie-boy, for a walk in Grandview Heights where he lives, he stops all the time to chat with the neighbors. Some people go out of their way to avoid this stuff, but he’s adamant he likes the chatter.
That’s the other thing I remember about Geoff Taylor. He loves his dog. When I ask how people can get to him on the campaign trail, he immediately goes to Swarbrick Landing on Tuesday and Thursday mornings where he religiously drops his dog off at the dog daycare pick up point at 8am and picks him up at the end of the day. “I have to admit it’s a little awkward, but I don’t like leaving him at home.” So he goes to the dog daycare twice a week and I try to arrange meetings during those two days.
His campaign seems to have come a long way since the Waikato weather story in March about how he failed to turn off his camera while shirtless vacuuming during a council meeting on Zoom. I thought it sounded like a grumpy publicity stunt. Few know anything about local councilors – was this his way of trying to get his name out there as he announced his candidacy for mayor? He convinced me that wasn’t the case, “Oh shit no. God no,” he said, but as I sit down to write, I wonder.
What about this man who sleeps in a bed with his wife, two cats and a dog every night, who adores Ken Follett’s novels – “the litter!” The incredible scope of his narration! – who gave up meat after watching a TV show where a goat was about to be killed and eaten for dinner (“the look on the goat’s face…I stopped at that exact moment and I told Julie, ‘you know, I’m I’m not gonna eat meat anymore, I just can’t “”), who has four stepchildren and they all call him dad, who listens to Newstalk ZB with Mike Hosking in his car and was told by Michael Laws during an interview, “You are a good man.”
I read the transcript of our coffee meeting later and realize that he evaded my question about rates. Will he increase them as mayor? I text him a few questions and say, “You didn’t give me a clear answer on what you would do with the rates?!” He answers by answering all the questions, except this one. I text him the following afternoon: “Still no comment on rates?! Radio silence. I think Geoff Taylor will do very well in politics.