Key Points:

The arms go up in the air and John Banks lets out a chuckle.

"Dear me. Dear me," exclaims the mayor when asked if his next political goal is to be the first mayor of a Greater Auckland Council.

It's a year since Mr Banks signed the visitors' book in the mayoral office with "I'm back". He is the first mayor to make a comeback since Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in 1968.

In that time the transmogrified Mr Banks has been auditioning new credentials. A new style, a softer image, a lower profile.

"You tend to catch flies more with honey than with vinegar," says the politician raised by Sir Robert Muldoon in the ways of the bear pit.

It's not too much of a stretch to say Mr Banks has gone from bully to populist in the space of three years. To use another of his one-liners, the "long, cold shower" after being defeated by political novice Dick Hubbard in 2004 gave plenty of time for reflection.

In his first year back at the helm, Mr Banks has set out to bring some gravitas to the Auckland City mayoralty. Instead of having protesters ejected in handcuffs from the council chamber, he has listened to their views. Instead of wild promises of building motorways, he has promised affordable progress.

What's more, there have been surprises, notably on the heritage front when he stepped in to stop the council signing away demolition controls on thousands of old homes.

With Citizens & Ratepayers, he cut this year's planned rates increase of 10 per cent to 5.1 per cent, the council rate of inflation. Much harder will be cutting similar increases inherited from the previous council when Mr Banks and his cohorts fix a 10-year budget. Everything, from community halls to parks and libraries, is under the microscope.

His one black spot has been the broken promise to stop "water price gouging" by taking albeit smaller charitable payments from Metrowater for general council spending. Mr Banks has a one-liner for this, too: "Swallowing a dead rat." Those in the know say Mr Banks - a driven politician since first being elected to the Birkenhead Borough Council in 1977 - is not just back for the Auckland City mayoralty.

He harbours a dream to lead a Greater Auckland Council that, fingers crossed, will emerge from the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Auckland Governance.

The "dear me" exclamation is followed by a response that it is too early to be considering being mayor of a super city and his focus is on affordable progress during the "global financial apocalypse".

Prod a bit deeper and it is clear the 61-year-old is giving the royal commission a lot of thought and his role in a super city, possibly two years away at the next local body elections.

"I'm quietly confident I would have the skills set to step up to the plate, but I wouldn't be pulling that lever until much closer."

In the meantime, he sees his role as oiling the wheels between Auckland and Wellington once the commission announces "substantial change" by March 31 next year.

"I'm suggesting to Prime Minister Helen Clark and John Key already that it is driven from the Prime Minister's department and Auckland in partnership."

Here, Mr Banks is departing from his council's script of handing the transition to the chief executives of the region's eight councils. Posturing like this from the mayor of the region's biggest city will, no doubt, cause friction with his counterparts, particularly North Shore's Andrew Williams, who sees no need for change on his patch.

If Mr Banks has an Achilles heel to address between now and when change occurs, it is vision. Lofty visions, blueprints and frameworks aren't his style. Besides, he adds, Auckland's landscape is littered with failed visions.

"I don't have this vision picture, but I do know where I want to take this city. An internationally competitive city that compares well with Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. A Greater Auckland that makes a huge contribution to the Auckland economy. A place of opportunity.

"A place where the poor and dispossessed and the homeless are treated with respect. A place with cultural heritage."

John Banks

*Born 1946.
*Re-elected Auckland City Mayor in 2007.
*First term 2001-04.
*Elected National Party MP in 1981 and later became a minister.
*Retired from Parliament in 1999.
*Married to Amanda, with three children.

What colleagues think of the new Banks
David Hay, Deputy Mayor, C&R leader:

John Banks is inclusive, gives clear leadership and encourages committee chairs to get on with their roles while he concentrates on the bigger picture. Where we have differed on any issue they have been worked through in a harmonious way. John is an excellent public speaker, a great champion for the city and a marvellous encourager. He is focused on outcomes and has an excellent ability to negotiate an outcome from a stalemate. Our C&R team find it a pleasure to work with him.

Richard Northey, City Vision-Labour leader:

John Banks' transmogrification is spotty and incomplete. He has found ways to restrain his combative behaviour at public meetings but every so often the old fiery Banksy re-emerges. All council meetings he chairs are now tightly scripted beforehand. All opposition amendments have to be provided hours in advance so he can practise his response. Even political opponents are greeted and responded to with the deliberate style of an old-time preacher giving "praise and thanks". He chooses not to attend and become involved in most political battles but instead selects issues from which he hopes to secure political credit that could ensure re-election. His 13th-hour intervention to torpedo the abandonment of heritage controls on homes in leafy suburbs and his battle against the Orakei Pt developer are examples of this.