John Banks took the frail hand of his old foe Penny Bright at her bedside in Auckland Hospital today and held it for a good 15 minutes.
"I haven't met anyone with more fight than you," said Banks, who knew he was in her good books when she telephoned and referred to him simply as "John".
"Whenever you referred to me as John Banks I knew I was in trouble," said the former mayor of Auckland City Council.
'I hope I gave her some comfort'
On a Wednesday night in 2002, Banks stared down a group of protesters at the Auckland Town Hall and said he was not going to tolerate "boorish and childish behaviour by a small minority of Aucklanders hell-bent on disrupting the council".
He ruled the protesters could not bring placards into the council meeting. That was followed by chaotic scenes with 20 security guards and several police officers dragging protesters outside and making 17 arrests. Bright was in the thick of the action.
Banks accepted Bright's invitation to visit her in hospital today, turning up in a Ralph Lauren puffer jacket carrying a large bunch of red lilies and a friendly smile.
He had barely pulled up a chair and wrapped his right hand into hers when Bright launched into a tirade against the injustices of Auckland Council in pursuing her for not paying rates and trying to sell the Kingsland house she had called home since 1990.
"It's a bit of a dag while I'm busy fighting for my life that I'm fighting to expose Auckland Council for what they have done to me ... there needs to be a full-blown forensic inquiry," said Bright, gravely ill in hospital with a life-threatening diabetic condition, ovarian cancer and a perforated bowel.
This was a cue for Banks to say he knew what it is like to be on the rough end of justice, citing the Court of Appeal finding a "miscarriage of justice" when the appellate judges quashed his conviction for electoral fraud over donations from internet mogul Kim Dotcom.
"We never thought we would catch up here," said Banks, who wanted to know how Bright was feeling - "a bit of discomfort but I'm alive" - and sleeping - "sometimes I get a bit of sleep, sometimes I don't".
"I only keep good memories and I have good memories of you and when you called me John this morning, you made my day," said Banks, who recalled driving along Quay St earlier this year and seeing Bright protesting at the removal of trees for a cycleway in the pouring rain.
Bright was equally warm, "giving credit, where credit's due", but unlike her old foe, who has quietly exited politics, signalling the fight "ain't over".
When Banks left, Bright said Banks was the only mayor she battled who had made the effort to visit her in hospital.
She could not resist a barb at current Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, saying it would be totally hypocritical for him to turn up when he had tried to help sell her house.
Asked if she would take Banks' advice and put things behind, Bright said: "Absolutely not. What has happened to me is scandalous and it can't happen to anybody else. The big issue here is who is holding Auckland Council accountable to the law? It's the Wild West."
"I hope I gave her some comfort," Banks said outside the hospital room where she is being cared for by the hospital staff and Julian, her partner of 13 years.