I made four predictions on the upcoming mayoral elections earlier this year. Even I thought they were risky predictions at the time. But in a couple of months I'll know. First, I said John Banks would definitely run against Dick Hubbard. But I doubted he would take out Hubbard. Second, I said George Wood on the North Shore would romp home for a third term as mayor essentially unopposed. Third, I predicted that Sir Barry Curtis would stand down, and last, that Bob Harvey could lose his mayoral chains if he were challenged by John Tamihere out west.
It seems that all the prominent candidates have now declared themselves, and any newcomers will need to nominate by next Friday.
The media tends to focus on the Auckland mayoralty and it is shaping up to be a classic rerun of the last election. This time, however, Banks has had a makeover and has become a new touchy-feely consensus politician. Actually, he isn't doing too badly in persuading even the most cynical among us that he would really be a different mayor to the abrasive bully-boy that his opponents accused him of being last time.
Earlier polling put Banks marginally ahead of Hubbard, but with the addition in the race of two reasonably high-profile right-wing candidates, they could drag enough votes off Banks to deliver a victory to Hubbard.
The hype around Steve Crow - the porn king - standing for mayor seems to have been a lot of hot air, and his campaign is clearly in tatters before it has even begun. His campaign launch was a public relations disaster. His right-wing, libertarian musings in public will relegate him to single figures if he stays in the race.
But Alex Swney's late nomination in the race is a real threat to Banks. Swney is an experienced political and media operator, and clearly has the resources and the smarts to position himself as the alternative contender to Banks and Hubbard. What Swney has to do is get himself into second place by the time the ballots go out. If he can do that, he will definitely have a shot as even supporters of Banks and Hubbard would admit that both men have a shop-worn feel about them.
The only other serious contender is John Hinchcliff whose campaign chances are really based on the hope that if the support for Hubbard drifts downward, the centre-left vote will consolidate around him and allow him to come through in a late run.
My pick is that it is still a pretty even fight between Banks and Hubbard, but that Swney will be second choice for the right and Hinchcliff for the left if either of the two frontrunners take a dive.
Out in Manukau, of course, the main contenders must be very excited that Curtis has thrown in the towel. Len Brown came within a whisker of defeating Curtis last time and has worked tirelessly over the past three years to nail him.
There are already two other big names who have declared themselves: Dick Quax was a credible third last time and the clear favourite of the right-wing. The prominent regional councillor for the area, Craig Little, threw his hat into the ring recently and is another heavy weight. Brown, who is Labour's choice, will be hoping that Little will drag enough votes off Quax to allow him to coast into Curtis's vacant chair.
But now that Curtis is out of the race, a number of other prominent South Aucklanders are being lobbied to stand. I'll make a bit of a confession here: I viewed the details of an opinion poll before Curtis' announcement that he would not run. The results clearly showed that Curtis has enough support to see off his three contenders, but he obviously didn't think it was worth the aggro.
In this poll both Brown and Quax were running neck and neck, with Little scoring a creditable third. I am aware that my mate, Willie Jackson, is being lobbied by a number of prominent groups in the community to stand. Jackson and other possible contenders were put in this poll. The results showed that without Curtis it would be a three-way fight between Jackson, Brown and Quax. None of the other contenders showed any traction.
Since leaving Parliament, Jackson as the CEO of Radio Watea and George FM has built a huge national radio network. Jackson is also now the most prominent broadcaster on Maori issues in NZ. Further, everyone knows he's becoming an astute businessman. Not bad for the son of a wharfie.
Out in Waitakere, I thought Harvey was going to have an unchallenged run. But it seems that a campaign to Tamihere to make a challenge has been increasing in the past week. As the long-term CEO of the Waipareira Trust, with a short detour to Parliament for two terms, Tamihere has a significant power base and support to give Harvey a run.
In one sense, Jackson and Tamihere running doesn't make sense, if you consider their broadcasting success and other business enterprises. But, of course, both men are seasoned politicians and unabashed populists - Tamihere outspokenly to the right of Jackson.
They have built up a huge following from their daily Radio Live show as well as Jackson's Eye to Eye programme. Both platforms give them a reach that few wannabe politicians could ever hope for.
If the people who are trying to get them to stand again for public office are successful, we can be assured the local body elections in Manukau and Waitakere will be the only shows in town worth watching.