The Auckland mayoral race is wide open after the first public poll shows virtually nothing separating the top four candidates.
The Ratepayers' Alliance-Curia mayoral poll has Labour councillor Efeso Collins and restaurateur Leo Molloy each on 21.7 per cent, Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck on 20.5 per cent and businessman Wayne Brown on 20.1 per cent.
Freelance media operator Craig Lord, who came third in the 2019 mayoral race, was four points behind the leading pack on 16 per cent.
The poll of 500 Aucklanders excluded four other mayoral candidates - Hibiscus and Bays Local Board chairman Gary Brown, New Conservative Party co-leader Ted Johnston, John Lehmann and animal justice campaigner Michael Morris.
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokesman Josh Van Veen said the poll shows the four main candidates are equally weak and uninspiring, but Collins has the advantage thanks to the Labour Party machine.
"The time has come for National to get off the fence. In the interests of local democracy, we are calling on the Opposition to endorse a candidate for change in Auckland," he said.
The Ratepayers' Alliance, which is aligned with the Taxpayers' Union, describes itself as a "coalition of individual Aucklanders and ratepayer groups" and campaigns against what it views as wasteful spending.
The mayoral race is shaping up as the most exciting contest since the first Super City election in 2010 when Manukau Mayor Len Brown battled it out with Auckland City Mayor John Banks, who lost.
The poll shows a mood for change after 12 years of Labour-controlled councils with the combined vote of Molloy, Beck, Brown and Lord far outstripping support for Collins, who has been endorsed by the Labour and Green parties.
One Labour Party source said the poll is bad news for Collins because if momentum builds around one of the centre-right candidates he will lose.
The contest follows the decision by Phil Goff to step down after two terms. Goff, a former foreign affairs and trade cabinet minister, is tipped to become New Zealand's next High Commissioner to the UK.
Collins said the poll shows a really tight race, but remained upbeat and confident of winning.
"I think it's important that whoever wants to make a case for the mayoralty has the opportunity to do so and Aucklanders can judge for themselves who they think is the best candidate for the job," he said.
Asked about the mood for change and securing votes on the right, Collins said his desire is to appeal to all Aucklanders and let them know he is open to genuine, robust conversations offering a collaborative style of leadership.
Molloy was pleased with the result, albeit surprised he was not more dominant given "we have more resources and more passion than the other candidates".
"We have done our best and we're in the position we should definitely be entitled to be in, but we are certainly not complacent," he said.
Molloy said the centre-right is not split and it's the Labour Party who's in big trouble.
"Wayne Brown is yesterday's man…the other person(Beck) is obviously going to capitulate and wave the white flag…and that will leave me. When it comes to a toe-to-toe slug out with Efeso there is only going to be one winner.
"The battle is Leo versus Efeso. There are no other contenders," he said.
Beck said it's early days and the poll shows the race is too close to call.
She said as the "centre-right" candidate it is important for voters to get to know the candidates and the skill and experience they would bring to the mayoralty.
"I believe my constructive style of leadership is what is required to get things done," said Beck, who is waiting to hear if she will be endorsed by National's de facto local government arm in Auckland, Communities & Residents.
Brown said the key takeaway from the poll is three-quarters of people are fed-up with the Goff-Collins style of leadership and want change.
"The question for voters will be who can be trusted to fix big organisations and get things done, and I'm very confident putting my track record of real delivery out there.
"I'm happy enough. I was the last cab off the rank. I can win from here," he said.
Lord said he was not too worried about the poll result, especially this far out from the local government elections.
The poll was conducted between June 1 and June 12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 per cent.
The elections are set down for October 8. Voting papers will be sent out to those on the electoral roll between September 16-21. Voting opens on September 16 and votes have to be cast by noon, October 8, at the latest.
The initial results for all council votes will be made on the afternoon and evening of October 8.
Final results will be confirmed between October 14-19.
Nominations for would-be candidates - including councillors and mayoral hopefuls - close on August 12, and all candidates will be publicly revealed five days later.