What's up, as we both well know, is that tom' />

Len Brown, the Mayor of Manukau City, came bouncing out of his office, beaming, and said, "Whad'up?"

What's up, as we both well know, is that tomorrow he's going to announce he'll stand for Super Mayor. But, as he likes to say, when he's not playing at being a rapper, "all in good time".

This means that while he is far too good and upstanding a fellow to pretend this isn't going to happen, he is also too good a politician to let me steal his thunder.

So we have an interview in which he doesn't actually admit that he is going to make this announcement, while never denying it.

I said, "So, you're declaring on Sunday?" And he said, "I'll be making a statement on Sunday, yeah".

This could have been annoying, but he is not very good at this particular game. He keeps laughing, for one thing. He has a big, startling laugh for a small, dapper chap.

The other thing about him that gives you a start is that he's a 52-year-old white bloke in a good suit who uses some very odd language.

He says "down with"; he tells the photographer that if he doesn't find the right "vibes" for his picture we can try another location. And, of course, he has been known to do the odd rap - very odd, in my opinion.

Because I knew he was the rapping mayor, that "whad'up" shouldn't have come as any great surprise. But because I am not hip like him, I had no idea what the appropriate response could possibly be. So I said, "Whad'up?" in a tone that possibly resembled that of an uptight headmistress.

It takes more than a prissy tone to put him off his bouncy stride.

He is always chipper. He called me at 8.30 at night, at the end of his 12-hour day, and he sounded even more lively (if that is possible) than when he phoned again at 7.30 the next morning to make a time to meet.

I was forming an image of him dancing and rapping around his house, the minute he got up, but he says he's a bit more subdued first thing in the morning.

This came as a relief. But then he offered that "I might do a bit of singing in the shower."

Yes, he well might. I'd asked whether he could do the posturing required of a Super City mayoral candidate and he said, "I can do singing and dancing."

Are you sure? I asked. I was thinking of the rap he did at the Pacific Music Awards, which was shown on telly and which I could only watch bits of, from behind my fingers. I told him this, but his feelings weren't hurt a bit.

"I spend a lot of my time with young people and what I'm doing is reaching out to them and saying, 'I don't want bars between you and me'."

I advised him to cut out the rapping. But of course I wanted him to do one. I thought it would make a funny picture. He said, ha, ha, that I was now his main adviser and he had taken the advice on board. And so, no, he wasn't going to oblige.

He's not usually afraid of making a fool of himself. "What I'm not afraid of is thinking outside the square and doing something that most, or some people, would say, 'Hey, what the heck's he doing up there?"'

The thing everyone knows about him is that he had a massive heart attack, on stage, at the Pacific Music Awards last year. I wondered whether he should be taking things a bit more easily and he looked at me as though I was mad. "No! Hell no! What's the point of that? I've been given a second chance at life and I'm making the most of it. I'm a lucky boy."

Well he is, in a peculiar sort of way: His heart attack raised his profile. "Dame Cath Tizard actually wrote me a letter and very cheekily said that was an extraordinary way of gaining political capital. I laughed my head off.

Look, life presents extraordinary things to deal with and what came out of it was support from right around the region, from hundreds, thousands of people. It was just unbelievable."

That's the optimistic way of looking at it. I read a quote from a Herald piece looking at the chances of potential candidates: "The well-liked and passionate Manukau City mayor's recent heart problems may count against his getting such a stressful job."

"That's hooey. It's absolute nonsense. I like the rest of it!"

He is what I call "a relentless optimist" and what he calls "a hopeless" one.

He tried to be pessimistic about this and failed miserably. "That's another flaw," he said, hopefully. I'd asked him what his faults were and he failed to come up with any convincing ones.

"Sometimes I'm so optimistic that I don't see things I should be pessimistic about. I put myself a bit too far ahead of the game."

That wasn't quite what I was after, but I'm going to give him points for trying. "Sometimes," he said, eventually, "I can be too self-centred. Sometimes I'm a little bit self-indulgent."

Come on, Len, I said. He thought hard. Then he said, triumphantly, "I'm not patient enough."

I was thinking more of, say, annoying habits (saying "whad'up", for example). Perhaps, I said even less hopefully, he squeezed the toothpaste tube from the top.

"Yes!" he said, looking even more cheerful than he does habitually, if that is possible. "The toothpaste is definitely an issue." I don't believe him.

"This morning my wife had to tell me to put the toothpaste away under the bench." Who puts the toothpaste under the bench? "Oh well, we don't leave it out on the top of the bench."

Oh, and he says he leaves his clothes lying around. I don't believe that either. So his worst fault may be that he, like many a politician, is capable of exaggerating for what he thinks is the required effect. Or that he even attempted to answer the question.

He's the nice and happy mayor, which is not as snappy as the rappy mayor (it must be catching.) He is also, as I rather feared he would be, a kissy one.

"I'm a huggy, kissy type of guy," he announced, unprompted. Not, I hope, in the mayoral workplace. Even he has his limits. "No, I don't run around sort of hugging and kissing the secretaries. That would be a weakness!"

When he visits kids he tells them that "I love them, that the community loves them ..."

That might sound like drippy waffle. "No, it's not. It's someone who's not afraid to express their emotions and I'm not afraid to get out there and express mine."

He's a Catholic who prays, on his knees, sometimes in the mayoral office, for guidance.

He is also a Catholic who is "very comfortable" about homosexuality, believes abortion "is a choice for a woman to make" and thinks the church "would be wise to start thinking about women priests". He lived with his wife before marriage. I think this makes him a funny sort of Catholic but he says he's "first and foremost a Christian".

I'd asked him about his faults because I was about to put to him that the perception might be that he's too nice to cope with the rough and tumble of Super City politicking.

That is more "nonsense". To prove it, he slapped the table, hard, to show me what a hard man he can be when it comes to making tough decisions.

"I know how to lead," he said, in a very macho way - but rather ruined the effect by letting loose one of his big laughs.

But does he know how to scrap? I tried to get him to say something mean about John Banks. No luck there. He gave me a list of things Banks is good at which was longer than the list of things he's good at. I tried to get him to say something mean about Rodney Hide.

On the topic of the Maori seats, he said that if he was Super Mayor, his council would review the representation of Maori and "whether we need to improve our representation".

Which would be by way of an "up you" to Rodney? "Oh, Rodney's doing a great job on that already by himself."

This was encouraging. I tried to get him to agree with Tau Henare's "buffoon" description but that was going too far. "I'm not getting into that stuff," he said. And - see how nice he is? - "he's a gutsy fighter, I'll give him that".

But is he? "Yeah, I've had to be. I've never had things in life come to me easily. I've had to be a fighter." What does he mean? "Well, nobody's going to describe me as a genius. I pick things up quickly but I'm not extraordinarily gifted in any way."

I'll agree that he's not gifted at joke-telling. He told a terrible one, in response to my teasing him about how he'll undoubtedly get all puffed up and important if he's the Super Mayor. "I think I'm about as puffed up as my wife wants me to be. I'm sitting three or four kilos over what I should be."

But other than that, he did all right and he'll undoubtedly do all right on the campaign trail. He has considerable bouncy charm, despite that "whad'up", which ought to have made him ridiculous but was somehow just funny.

He scoffed at my ridiculous fantasy of being a Lord Mayor, swanning about in ermine robes. "This is New Zealand!" But I think he'd look rather sweet in fur and the ultimate in rapper bling: the super mayoral chains. It's unlikely he'll appreciate me saying it, but it seems an appropriate, if belated, response to that greeting.