National MP Mark Mitchell is understood to be firming up a run for the Auckland mayoralty next year and could face up against former Labour Party leader David Shearer.
A source close to the Mitchell camp said the MP for Whangaparaoa plans to quit Parliament and stand as an independent, and tipped former National deputy leader Paula Bennett to be his campaign manager.
National's campaign manager at last year's election, Stu Mullin, is also believed to be on board the Mitchell bandwagon.
On August 21, Mullin registered and parked a website, www.markmitchell.co.nz, which is not being used for National Party purposes.
The source said before the level 4 lockdown, Mitchell and Bennett were visiting other potential candidates and the confirmed candidate, Leo Molloy, urging them to stay out of the mayoral race to give Mitchell a clear run.
Molloy, the outspoken businessman and owner of headquarters bar on Auckland's Viaduct Basin, said "senior people" had made overtures to him.
He said if Mitchell made congestion his number one policy he would "wave the white flag and get in behind him".
Mitchell told the Weekend Herald he had been approached about standing for mayor and was humbled by the amount of support.
"People would like to see a good centre-right candidate standing for the mayoralty next year. All I can say is there are lots of conversations that happen and there is lots of stuff going on behind the scenes," said Mitchell.
He said he had not made a decision on what is a serious and big job, but would have a fresh look at it when the country popped out of Covid lockdown. In the meantime, Mitchell said, he was focused on supporting his electorate through the pandemic.
Bennett said Mark Mitchell was a good friend.
"I am not aware that he is running and as such I'm not his campaign director," she said.
Asked if she would consider being Mitchell's campaign director or play a role if he does stand, Bennett said she was not into speculating.
Speculation about Mitchell's plans for the mayoralty come as Labour figures are talking to former party leader David Shearer if Mayor Phil Goff does not stand again.
Shearer, 64, confirmed this month it had been raised with him but he had not yet had time to consider it. He only returned from a posting as head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan a few months ago and is settling back into life in New Zealand after nearly five years away.
Goff, a former Trade Minister, is tipped to be appointed as the Ambassador to Washington at the end of his second mayoral term as the Government tries to boost its trade relationship under President Joe Biden.
Goff, who at 68 is nearing the end of a life in politics, has not ruled out an overseas post. He is expected to make a decision about his future early next year.
Born on Auckland's North Shore, Mitchell is a former policeman and worked as a security contractor in Iraq. Mitchell entered Parliament as the MP for Rodney in 2011 and is a former Minister of Defence.
In 2018, Mitchell dropped out of the National Party leadership race when Simon Bridges replaced Bill English and, in May last year, he had a second crack when Bridges was rolled by Todd Muller.