Only a few months ago, the Super City mayoralty was Len Brown's to lose. In a May Herald-DigiPoll survey he had an 11 point lead over John Banks in a head-to-head match-up.

A few weeks later, the first-term Manukau Mayor was in the dog box with voters, not so much for confessing to putting personal spending on his council credit card, but for his reaction to the intense political and media scrutiny.

His chest-thumping, head-smacking response before the television cameras while trying to claim he came back from a heart attack for the love of the people, not personal gain, might have gone down well in the Manukau City Council chamber but it spooked the wider region.

Rightly, voters started questioning if Brown, the mayor of the second biggest council in New Zealand, was up for the quantum leap to the second biggest political job in New Zealand, or just a lightweight from the suburbs?

Since June, Brown has been in catch-up mode seeking to convince voters that he has learnt from his mistakes and the best candidate to be the "uniter" of Auckland's diverse communities at a time of great change and uncertainty.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," said the 53-year-old, who was lucky to survive a massive heart attack in 2008.

The paternalistic platitude of uniting Auckland is genuine, even though Brown has been a critic of the Super City, which he now wants to make happen.

If anyone has the skills to unite and strengthen communities - and devolve power to the local boards - it is Brown.

Manukau is the most culturally diverse and socially challenged council in New Zealand, and Brown has been in there, boots and all, committing totally to issues since his days as a lawyer.

One of his favourite lines is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's "sweat the small stuff". The question still lingers. Is he up to the big stuff?

His slogan is to make Auckland the "most liveable city in the world" through economic growth, sustainability and building strong communities.

He wants to pick up Waitakere's eco-city and incorporate it into the Super City, but his track record on the environment is poor.

Sprawling Manukau City, with just 3km of busways sharing congested highways, is hardly a picture of environmental sustainability.

Brown has no firm plans for a goal of reducing Auckland's carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. Limited exposure to growing expectations for better urban design and heritage is another handicap.

Brown will have to learn the art of handling delicate urban issues, likes Queens Wharf, which can flare up at any time.

One complex issue where Brown deserves credit for boldness is a promise to pick up "Robbie's" vision for a rapid transit system for Auckland with plans for three rail projects - an inner city loop, rail to the airport and rail to the North Shore. Completed, at pace, by 2015.

Brown is dismissing comments by Transport Minister Steven Joyce and rival John Banks that mayoral contenders are over-promising on transport, saying the Government will have no choice but to listen to a mayor with a mandate from a third of the country's population. "If that is not the purpose of this uniting, what is? he asks.

Brown, a member of the Labour Party, is proposing to help fund these projects, which will require significant Government assistance, through private, public partnerships and infrastructure bonds - funding mechanisms generally favoured by the right. He has experience working with the Government - campaigning for laws to control liquor outlets and street prostitution - and says he does not take "no," for an answer.

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