The National Party is quietly throwing its support behind Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck in the Auckland mayoral race.
Beck is expected to be endorsed by the party's de facto local government arm in Auckland, Communities & Residents, at its next executive meeting in three weeks.
Last night, C&R president Kit Parkinson said he supports Beck as "the most skilled, competent and honest candidate competing in this year's mayoral race".
"She will lead Auckland into a new cost-efficient future," he said.
The Herald understands at least four National MPs in Auckland have agreed to hand over their electorate databases with the names of party members and other confidential information to help Beck once she is endorsed by C&R.
A Ratepayers' Alliance-Curia mayoral poll on Friday showed Beck has a shot at winning the mayoralty. The poll had Labour councillor Efeso Collins and restaurateur Leo Molloy each on 21.7 per cent, Beck on 20.5 per cent, businessman Wayne Brown on 20.1 per cent and freelance media operator Craig Lord on 16 per cent.
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokesman Josh Van Veen said the time has come for National to get off the fence and endorse a candidate for change in Auckland.
Molloy claimed on Friday the National Party has offered to endorse him in the tightly fought race. A spokesman for National Party leader Christopher Luxon said he wasn't sure who Molloy was referring to, but said of the endorsement claims: "Nothing has changed, we don't endorse local candidates."
Unlike Labour, the National Party has a policy of not endorsing any candidates at local government elections, but party figures are working behind the scenes to ensure Beck gets the nod from C&R, attends party events and has access to party machinery.
Molloy hit the headlines when he attended a National Party fundraiser event in West Auckland this month, but a party source said Beck had attended 20 or so party events since announcing she was standing for the mayoralty three months ago.
Former party leader Simon Bridges has been photographed with Beck on a visit to the central city and yesterday former National MP Parmjeet Parmar accompanied Beck on a visit to a Sikh temple in South Auckland.
A member of the C&R executive, Nick Albrecht, has joined Beck's campaign team and she has signed up one of New Zealand's most successful advertising figures, Mike Hutcheson, who previously worked on mayoral campaigns for Labour's Len Brown and Phil Goff.
Beck said she is standing as an independent candidate on a pro-business, centre-right platform, saying it matters to some voters that you have the support of the right.
She confirmed she had been seeking endorsement from C&R for some time and having it would be helpful as the only declared centre-right candidate.
Beck did not want to talk about the National Party events she has attended, but said she had found National MPs warm and very welcoming - "and that's been great".
Last night, Molloy said he traversed the political spectrum and would be amazed if National supported Beck, saying he had heard from people high up in the party that "we are going to put her into central government rather than have her muddy the waters for the mayoralty".
"Viv can't win. She has got no financial backers. She is running on empty," Molloy said.
Two party sources said C&R has been procrastinating for weeks over whether to endorse Beck and it was time to get behind a mayoral candidate.
Beck's poll result gave her a great reason to stay in the race and she is about to scale up her spend after a sleepy start and an earlier advertising campaign was cancelled, one source said.
"I want to be able to support her, but I want to see more from her, a bit more passion and energy," the source said.
One National MP from Auckland, who did not want to be named, has told the Herald it was not helpful to have Beck, Molloy and Brown splitting the vote on the right.
"We should be sitting down and working out who should go all the way. We need a change in Auckland and ultimately that is really, really important," said the MP.
Tracy Mulholland, one of three C&R councillors, said she had yet to make a decision about which mayoral candidate to support.
"I wish them all well. The city needs a strong, competent, capable and fiscally responsible leader able to stand up to central government. Political parties shouldn't be running candidates," she said.
Said another C&R councillor Chris Fletcher: "I'm watching the situation closely."
Desley Simpson, the third C&R councillor and wife of National Party President Peter Goodfellow, said she had been at a number of functions Beck had attended.
"It will be interesting to see how she progresses now she has stepped down from Heart of the City and is campaigning full time," she said.
Simpson has earned cross-party respect as chair of the finance committee and is tipped as a possible deputy mayor if Collins wins the mayoralty. Goff appointed Bill Cashmore, a National Party member, as his deputy to balance the political leadership.