The journey Anita Baker took from a girl growing up in Paremata, to solo mum, administrator, community worker, then Councillor and now Mayor, is the sort taken by many successful women in top jobs in New Zealand.
“There was never any careful planning. It was a transition that happened. Women often lack confidence I think and I’ve picked up more as I’ve gone along.”
If you told Mayor Baker in 1991 when she returned to Porirua, having left a marriage with a two year and a nine month old baby, that one day she would be Mayor, she would have laughed.
“Those first few years were hand to mouth. I understand how it is to struggle. But I’ve always had aspiration and I’ve always cared about my community.
Aware that many in her community don’t have the resources or opportunities she has had, Mayor Baker says she will be a champion for the whole city.
“I think there’s a perception I’m ‘Mrs Whitby’, but my interest and connections go across the city. I was born and raised here, and my work as a Councillor and on the Hutt Mana Charitable Trust has broadened my awareness of the issues we face.”
She cites work on the Porirua Housing project, with Compass Health and the Hutt Mana Charitable Trust that retrofitted 20 local homes where children had been hospitalised in the previous six months. “The Council doesn’t have the money or mandate to provide these services, but as Mayor I will get the right people in the room to make things happen. There’s a lot more to do to get the right resources to the right people.”
Mayor Baker is very excited about the composition of the council with a good balance of young people and cultural diversity. “We probably could have had more women around the table, but with a female Mayor, Deputy and CEO I think we will be OK,” she says.
In terms of her priorities, Mayor Baker is resolute. “We need to be clear about what we need to do to improve our harbour, show residents what we are doing and then measure the results. Planting will be a big part of making that difference, as will investment in pipes to improve the health of waterways.”
The Eastern rebuild of houses and the opening of Transmission Gully must be faced and not feared with the interests of Porirua people being at the heart of the change. “Infrastructure is the most important thing the council can invest in to support people’s lives and livelihoods. Jobs, new houses and investment are underpinned by good infrastructure.”
Mayor Baker says she has been known more for getting things done, rather than pushing herself forward and she doesn’t expect that to change too much. “I just want Porirua people to know they can approach me, that if they ask I will do my best to help them and that I am as proud of our city as they are and I’m determined that we can continue to improve what we do.”
23 Oct 2019