John Banks says the race to be the first mayor of the Super City boils down to leadership, so it's worth testing his credentials on this important issue.

He's on the mark about leadership being crucial to the success of the Super City, particularly given the mayor's role to win the hearts and minds of a sceptical electorate.

In political terms, the Super City reforms are on the scale of the Christchurch earthquake. A May Herald-DigiPoll survey found only 33 per cent believed the Super City would be a better place to live in, compared to 49 per cent who said it would be worse.

Whoever wins on October 9, starts on the back foot with the city's 1.4 million citizens to make a success of the biggest council in Australasia. Bigger than any council in successful cities like Sydney and Melbourne and nearly half as big as the next biggest council, Brisbane.

You don't have to go far back to find the ugly Banks, but the 63-year-old has taken big steps to distance himself from an abrasive past and listened to his advisers - and focus groups - to showcase a new identity.

City Vision leader Richard Northey says Banks has not changed, and that he locks himself in a Town Hall fortress with a tight group of Citizens & Ratepayers cronies at the exclusion of C&R women and other councillors.

For two terms, Banks has played divisive politics at Auckland City but has promised to leave politics at the door of the Super City. There are high expectations across the city for co-operation and consensus around the Auckland Council table. As Metro editor Simon Wilson noted this month, Banks had a chance for a new consensus style of leadership at Auckland City this term, but opted for old-fashioned warfare.

With very little likelihood of a C&R majority and the different styles of decision-making from Manukau, North Shore, Waitakere and rural Franklin and Rodney thrown into the mix, Banks will have to learn a new set of leadership skills. To his credit, Banks has never stepped back from a challenge and brings more than 30 years of local and central government politics to the table in what will be a bumpy first term. This is what he means by "strong, decisive leadership".

Another conundrum Banks has presented voters is his slogans of "affordable progress" and "investment, growth and jobs".

Somehow, Auckland is going to become an economic powerhouse like Vancouver and Brisbane by holding rates below inflation and "not treating Aucklanders like an ATM machine".

These are hard times, yes, but Banks used the same slogan of "affordable progress" in 2007 when the economy was booming. He has kept rates in check this term, but only managed to continue a big capital works programme after inheriting $90 million a year in extra income from big rate increases by the previous council, led by Dick Hubbard, and ramping up council debt.

Banks is an acknowledged arm-twister when it comes to extracting wins from the Government - such as a solution to the leaky homes crisis and Queens Wharf - but he has given few, if any, signs, of an action plan to lift the city's economic performance.

On transport, Banks is criticising his main opponent, Len Brown, for making unrealistic promises about rail while showing little enthusiasm himself for dealing with the city's number one issue. His first-term mantra of "roads, roads, roads" has been replaced with "roads, roads and some public transport on the side".

FOR THE RECORD
Age: 63
Married to: Amanda with three children
Political career: First elected to Birkenhead Borough Council 1977, National MP for Whangarei 1981-1999, Police Minister, Minister of Local Government, Minister of Tourism, Auckland City Mayor 2001-2004, 2007-2010
Also: Controversial talkback host
Business: Partner in highly successful Tony's Restaurant Group for 30 years. Involved in many business ventures, including a language institute, bee-pollen products and a shareholder in KiwiSaver provider Huljich Wealth Management - subject of a Securities Commission investigation for topping up funds when investments turned sour.
Other interests: Animal rights campaigner.

RECORD THIS TERM
Rate rises

2008 5.1 per cent
2009 2 per cent
2010 1.9 per cent

Water prices

2008 5.1 per cent
2009 5.9 per cent
2010 1.4 per cent

Debt: Increased from $322m to $867m

High points: Kept heritage controls in leafy suburbs, restored Pah Homestead for James Wallace art collection, progressed Auckland Art Gallery and Aotea Square upgrades, stood firm on retaining Queens Wharf shed and leaky homes settlements

Low points: Botched liquor licensing changes, bus lane revenue gouging, cut stormwater spending from $35m to $22.5m, $2.5 million loss on musical My Fair Lady and two plays.

* From the New Zealand Herald feature, 'Super City - Election Guide'