Phil Goff has given the strongest hint yet he'll run for mayor of Auckland next year.
A possible contest between the former Labour leader and a rejuvenated John Banks is shaping up in the city where gridlock, rates, and soaring property prices are a perennial political migraine for incumbent Len Brown.
This morning Mr Banks, a two-time former Auckland mayor and one-time Act Party leader, wouldn't rule out running in the race.
One political commentator today said Mr Goff had the best chance of any likely contenders, including incumbent Mr Brown, to be Auckland's next mayor.
Mr Goff today said he was doing his "homework" on the 2016 race.
"I am taking it seriously. If John Banks wishes to put his name in, that's entirely up to him. And let the people of Auckland decide."
The Mt Roskill Labour MP's comments coincided with today's detailed publication of new rates Auckland property owners face.
About 88.7 per cent of ratepayers were expected to have a rates increase -- and the council expected about 2 per cent to face a hike of more than $1000.
A fixed interim transport levy will also be added to rates bills.
Mr Goff said he'd prefer rates were not used as a way of meeting Auckland's infrastructure costs.
"I'd prefer a more user-pays basis. If you use the roads, then that's where the costs should fall, rather than on a lot of retired folk around the city that aren't using motorways in peak hours, who nevertheless will pay an equal amount with those, like myself, who use them every day," he said.
"I guess council had no choice in that because the Government won't make a decision on alternative ways of meeting the infrastructure costs of Auckland transport."
He said the current Government and council were talking past each other and efforts to fix congestion had come to a standstill.
"The congestion is as bad as I've seen in Los Angeles or in Europe."
Mr Goff said the city's clogged transport arteries were costing $1.5 billion in lost productivity every year. He said this was much more than the cost of a "decent alternative public transport system" to alleviate pressure on the city's roads.
Yesterday, Mr Goff admitted some constituents in his ethnically diverse electorate could be put off by his party's comments on Chinese housing investors.
He defended Labour's policy on foreign home ownership yesterday, but conceded its comments about the high rates of home ownership by people with Chinese surnames could upset some voters.
"Who knows? Some people might object to it but I think most people will understand," he said.
Political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards said Mr Goff had a better shot at winning the mayoralty than Mr Banks, Mr Brown or National MP Maurice Williamson.
"I think Phil Goff's chances of winning are very strong. The winning formula Phil Goff has is he's on the right of the left -- he's a much more centrist politician than most other likely candidates."
He said a strong track record, name recognition, and a reputation for "competence" would be of possible benefit to Mr Goff's chances in 2016.
Dr Edwards said he saw no reason for believing Mr Brown's chances of being re-elected had improved recently.
He said scandals "lose their sting" over time but it was hard to see Mr Brown's reputation had recovered enough since the Bevan Chuang affair to make him electable.
Meanwhile, a resurgent Mr Banks told Paul Henry today he wouldn't rule out running for mayor.
"The mayoralty's very interesting ... I'll give it time and we'll think about it."
Mr Banks was in the spotlight this week, attacking the Attorney-General and Crown Law, saying they tried to "cheat" him during a failed prosecution attempt over donations from internet mogul Kim Dotcom.
Mr Williamson, the colourful Pakuranga MP, was cited as a contender in 2013 but did not run, so restaurateur John Palino ran on a vaguely centre-right platform.
But Mr Palino's campaign ended in ignominy and Mr Williamson has had a tumultuous time as an MP since then.
Mr Williamson was not loquacious when asked his views on running for mayor next year.
"I'm not making any comment about the mayoralty at this point. Not making any comment at all."
Mr Williamson resigned as a minister last year, and faced allegations he made a rejected approach to the Act Party in May. Last month, he attacked his own minister Simon Bridges over a local transport spat he compared to a "nuclear explosion".
Mayor Len Brown said he was too busy to consider whether Mr Goff or Mr Banks would run for the position.
He did not confirm whether he would put his hat in the ring next year, stating: "I'm too focussed on the job at hand to be worried about what might or might not happen at the end of next year".
But sources told the Herald in January that Mr Brown had told an inner circle of friends and advisers he planned to seek re-election.