Despite the lame beat-ups about the Auckland mayoral opponents, Len Brown was always running against himself. The only question was how much he would win by.
A record low turnout and 16 opponents draining away about half of the vote does make his victory more of a relief than a celebration.
Nevertheless, Brown can claim a solid mandate.
It's a disgrace that the right wing power brokers, who always have plenty of say on how our city is run, didn't have the backbone to put up a credible candidate for centre-right voters to support.
John Palino, who arrived in New Zealand in 1996, deserves respect for at least flying their flag. It was always a stretch taking a political tyro with an American accent seriously. Palino winning a respectable second place must have the right-wing city barons wondering what could have been.
In any event Brown can claim a renewed mandate from a third of the voters in the country.
With the prime minister and the leader of the opposition he has the biggest bully pulpit in the country. To keep their place at the top table John Key and David Cunliffe need to win over Len Brown's voters. Everyone knows that whoever wins Auckland next year wins the prime ministership.
That makes Brown the kingmaker. He's achieved most of the important things he needed last term. The Unitary Plan is done and dusted. Brown's wish-list for transport is approved.
So given his new status he should be able to squeeze more from the Government on transport and housing if he plays it right.
On the local front, there's been a slight move to the right in his new council. But one of the benefits of office the mayor enjoys is having plenty of powerful roles and baubles to dish out to ensure a working majority on his council.
In his last term he was everything to everyone. That isn't going to work this time.
The political lines are going to be harsher. His opponents will attack more often. His base will expect more from him.
Sitting on the fence when his Ports of Auckland workers were being shafted was a disgrace. Defending obscene management salaries and directors' fees while having to be coaxed to support a living wage for other workers sends the wrong message.
If the mayor reads the vote correctly, expect senior heads to roll at Ports of Auckland. Some of the suits on the transport and water boards should dust off their CVs too. Let's see if salaries at the top get curtailed and the council wages at the bottom move up.
Brown deserved a second term. But only just.