To take Leo Molloy at his word, his shock decision to bow out of the Auckland mayoral race this morning was actually out of selfless political conviction and "nightmare" fears that Labour-endorsed candidate Efeso Collins will win in October.
In his exit press conference at his Ponsonby campaign headquarters sipping a Heineken amid a fully stocked bar, the controversial businessman said he had to resign as a "stare down" descended on a crowded group of centre-right candidates.
Two independent pressures had converged on the Molloy campaign Thursday night.
A Ratepayers' Alliance-Curia poll came out revealing he had dropped dramatically in support to 14.5 per cent - down from 23 per cent only a month ago.
The 66-year-old Auckland restaurateur was now third in the rankings, behind fellow pro-business candidate Wayne Brown on 18.6 per cent, and Collins on 22.3 per cent.
"I was mortified. We just didn't see that coming. I'm a fairly bullish person, I'm a blue sky person, a front windscreen not a rear vision," Molloy said.
There was also the fact that the deadline for all candidates to nominate themselves for New Zealand's 2022 Local Government elections was noon today.
In Molloy's eyes, if he were to remain in the race and on the ballot it would help secure a win for left/progressive candidate Collins, with the right/conservative vote split between Brown, Viv Beck and himself.
"If we'd left our name in the ring beyond 12 o'clock today, I couldn't guarantee I wouldn't be orchestrating the result. And God forbid there is one result that none of us want to live with, that is literally a nightmare," Molloy said.
"I thought that we had a stare down from the centre-right candidates that ended up being a bit like Princess Diana's marriage, it was a bit crowded at times. I decided that I was the person who having tried to stare them all down, I'd step away to leave another candidate to hopefully prevail and do the right thing by the city."
The self-described "hospo legend" and owner of Headquarters bar in Auckland's Viaduct, said he had hoped Beck, who was trailing behind him on 12.5 per cent in Thursday's poll, would not nominate as a candidate before the deadline.
Beck only officially nominated as a candidate at 10am this morning, despite campaigning for months now.
"Well that was the stare down, and that's what we thought was going to happen. So we were hoping that Viv would wave the white flag ... But she didn't so we had to make a decision," Molloy said.
"Wayne was never going to wave the white flag after that poll two weeks ago."
To say the least, Molloy was not complimentary of the campaign platform or character Collins - who is an Auckland councillor for the Manukau Ward.
"I'd hate to think I contributed to him being elected because I think he's the most reckless and irresponsible of all the candidates," Molloy said.
"Efeso's been on the umbilical cord of life for his entire working career."
But an uncharacteristically subdued Molloy admitted he had made campaign mistakes that he would not make again in his commitment to run for Auckland Mayor again in 2025.
In particular a notorious expletive-ridden appearance on Guy Williams' satirical show last month - in which he grilled the comedian on the age he lost his virginity, among other things.
"There's no regrets, it was filmed six months ago and I thought I was doing Guy a favour, but having said that I think we agree that in the 2025 campaign I probably won't do it again."
Molloy claimed he had asked the producers of the show to removing his swearing but they refused.
"The language is me. I can never not be me. I'll never be an actor. I'll always be genuine. And if people want to buy into that package, that's fine."
Molloy also admitted he had spent "a lot" of money in his social media presence, electronic billboards and campaign bus with his face emblazoned on the side, which he said is now up for sale.
With Molloy's approximate 15 per cent of the electorate up for grabs, where does that disgruntled, anti-establishment vote go?
At this stage, Molloy is not endorsing any other candidate, but it's a "very real possibility" he will before the October 8 election day.
"Every one of them has some redeeming features ... but has any one of them got the whole package? Probably not."
Molloy's thousands of voters are unlikely to pivot towards Collins and will now start paying attention to businessman Wayne Brown, Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck and the wild card in the race Craig Lord, who came a respectable third in the 2019 mayoral contest.
Today's poll shows momentum is building behind Brown, who is ramping up his "Fix Auckland" advertising campaign under the guidance of public relations consultant Ben Thomas.
Beck, who has the backing of National's de facto local government arm Communities and Residents, is struggling on 12.5 per cent.
But if the polls are sending a consistent message, it's that Aucklanders are tiring of a left-leaning mayor and want change. This is borne out by Collins' poll numbers, which have been stagnant in the mid 20s for months.
In the previous four mayoral contests, Len Brown and Phil Goff secured 50 per cent of the vote by treading a middle path that appealed to centre-right voters. Collins is caught between representing the status quo and being captured by the left.
If a majority of Aucklanders can coalesce around Brown or Beck, then the left's hold on the mayoral chains could be coming to an end.