The race for local elections is heating up, and across the country those wishing to represent their communities have thrown their hats into the ring.
Before voting closes on Saturday, October 8, find out which candidates in your neighborhood are running on anti-vax ideals, or with links to anti-mandate groups, including Voices for Freedom (VFF).
Graham Fox is running for a seat on the Ōtaki Community Council. He is listed as a media contact in press releases from New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out With Science (NZDSOS), a small group of registered New Zealand GPs and nurses led by Wellington doctor Matthew Shelton who are against the measures public health of Covid-19.
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Jonny Best is a four-term Paraparumu/Raumati Community Council member and is running for a seat on the new Raumati Community Council. He donated to VFF last year, is on their mailing list and witnessed the 23-day occupation of Parliament grounds earlier this year.
Nicole Foss, an economist from Canada who previously lived in the failed eco-village of Atamai in Nelson’s Motueka Valley, is running for a council seat in the Pāuatahanui neighborhood. She appeared on five videos on the VFF website in June and July, where she referenced conspiracy theories like the “New World Order”.
City of Wellington
Dr. Ate Moala, licensed physician, is running for a seat in the Paekawakawa/South Ward. Her candidate statement says she “hates poor decision-making that violates people’s health, rights, and freedoms”, and she protested at the Freedom & Rights Coalition’s anti-government marches against the blockages.
Barbara McKenzie, candidate for mayor of Wellington, claimed children cannot spread Covid-19, vaccination against Covid is ‘very dangerous’ and spoke out in favor of occupying Parliament grounds . Online, she called for an end to Covid-19 vaccinations and defended the Trump-inspired rioters who stormed the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021.
valley of the huts
Upper Hutt mayoral candidate Keith Bennett denies links to VFF, but his online presence shows he backs a range of his claims – including conspiracy theories about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the government. Bennett said he has not spoken to mainstream media.
Longtime Carterton District Councilor Jill Greathead admits her involvement with the anti-vax group Voices for Freedom. She admitted she was on the group’s mailing list and belonged to its Wairarapa branch, but called VFF leader Claire Deeks’ “ungovernable” comments “ridiculous” and “unprofessional”.
Dot Watson, a Maori ward candidate for Tararua District Council, admitted involvement with VFF but did not disclose it in promotional material. She said constituents she spoke to in Tararua “didn’t seem to be concerned” about her relationship with VFF.
Claire Bleakley, vice-chairman of Featherston Community Council, was among hundreds arrested during the occupation of Parliament. She is a candidate for Featherston Ward of South Wairarapa District Council.
And on the east coast…
Louise Burnside, who is running for Napier City Council, said she has seen ‘more vaccine injured people end up in our intensive care unit than Covid patients’. She was the spokesperson for Nurses for Freedom during the protest, and although she no longer holds that role, she said she was “obviously very sympathetic” to their cause.
Melanie Petrowski is running for Hastings-Havelock North Ward of Hastings District Council. She is ‘loosely affiliated’ with VFF and said that over the past two years she has seen ‘global globalism’ from groups like the United Nations ‘infiltrate local councils’ – a common view among local government candidates with links to VFF.
Michael “Mike” Ngahuka (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Ranginui), pastor at Destiny Church, also helped organize and manage the Hawke’s Bay branch of the Freedom & Rights Coalition (FRC). He said his problem was with the Covid-19 vaccination mandates. ‘If there are safe drugs and vaccines, then go for it,’ he said – but confirmed he had attended both the parliamentary occupation of Wellington and the most recent protest .
Marcelle Raheke, a candidate from the Flaxmere area, said she was unvaccinated and had attended the FRC protest in Napier last year.
Darin and Jen Brown are a married couple, both running for Gisborne District Council, espousing anti-vax rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories. Jen is a local coordinator for VFF, and Darin is a 5G conspiracy theorist who wants to be the East Coast town’s next mayor.
Peter Jones is an anti-vaxxer. He runs two Facebook pages, both littered with misinformation and material spreading conspiracy theories.
Leighton Packer is a pastor at Destiny Church who organizes “freedom protests” for the anti-warrant Coalition for Brian Tamaki’s Freedom and Rights. Ahead of the recent protest in Parliament, where Tamaki and her supporters staged a ‘show trial’, she posted photos of a convoy leaving Gisborne for Wellington.
Sort the informed from the misinformed
The democratic process can be particularly vulnerable in local body elections as there is often a relatively low turnout and understanding of the candidates and their policies can be extremely limited.
Compounding this general lack of candidate awareness is the fact that misinformation groups encourage members to run for local organizations while hiding their affiliation.
It is particularly concerning when they say their aim is to make New Zealand ‘ungovernable’.
Here’s a guide on how to learn more about your local candidates and sort out the informed from the misinformed.