On policy alone, Hamilton voters could just about throw a blanket over their three leading choices for mayor, with water looking like the only wild card.
Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker has looked increasingly out of her electoral depth as residential water meters threaten to drown her re-election pitch.
The incumbent was thrown a lifeline this week. With the arrival of an annual report confirming council making huge strides towards balancing its budgets, Ms Hardaker was bullish enough to raise the prospect of an early surplus.
But Hamilton voters uncommitted to returning her to office have two genuine alternatives who, remarkably, aren’t that far apart on many of the issues.
Of the three leading candidates, Dave Macpherson has produced the most detailed policies, releasing a torrent of information on what he would do.
Many of these fall in the social and recreational sector: as mayor he wants to inflation-proof community grants, introduce a higher “living wage” for staff, and levy major developers one per cent of their project’s value for the arts.
He would use half of the proceeds from the looming sale of the city’s hotels shareholding to fast-track playgrounds – a policy shared with rival Ewan Wilson.
That cut of the proceeds would also help fund a new indoor recreation centre and either a new pool in the northeast or a rebuild of the inner-city Munies.
He supports land value rating and more rates rebates for poorer residents.
Along the political spectrum to the right lies the more centrist platform of Mr Wilson, who has mixed social policies such as free pools for under-5s and fast-tracked playgrounds.
His economic development policies include selling down the city’s airport stake, extending the runway to secure international flights, and creating a committee charged with encouraging jobs and investment.
On rates and debt there is little between that pair, both pitching lower long-term rates rises tied to a council costs index, a contrast with Ms Hardaker’s support for the 3.8 per cent long-term average set by the council last year.
All of which eventually leaves voters to consider the three candidates’ stances on water. Should the city fluoridate it?Will the candidates heed the outcome of the fluoride referendum? Should the council roll out water metering?
Ms Hardaker holds the toughest ground here, supporting the tribunal that she led which removed fluoride, and equivocal on whether she would reverse that.
Ms Hardaker is also on the difficult side of the meters argument, with easy points registered by her opponents over the city’s large-scale water leakage, and the impact of residential meters on renters and those who are least able to pay.
Mr Macpherson also backs the tribunal’s opposition to fluoride. However, he will abide by the referendum – that in the end, he got across the line in council.
Mr Wilson has been the most outspoken, and most pro-fluoride of the three, and led efforts to overturn the decision when significant opposition emerged.
Mr Macpherson and Mr Wilson are battling for the same votes on meters, with the former seeing it as an issue that could propel him into genuine contention.
For those looking for an outside chance or protest vote recipient, there’s plenty of choice standing on a range of soap boxes.
Ian Hanley is pro-fluoride, anti-meters and backs selling out of the airport. Jack Gielen argues the election is “about reducing the debt”.
He wants more “upfront” financial management and accountability and is against fluoride.
Tony Dixon presents a more conservative pitch, but along the same lines: the city must live within its means, and he offers independent leadership.
Colourful law student and former prison inmate Arshad Chatha is standing to encourage ethnic candidates, and against “all the injustices, wherever it is”.
Libertarian candidate Tim Wikiriwhi has been the invisible man, but wants less “council interference in private property, individual liberty, and business”.