Pledging to build a new cruise ship terminal on Captain Cook Wharf was an election promise Auckland Mayor Len Brown should have known he'd never be able to keep. Now, barely six months in office, he's had to backtrack, ending up with a double layer of egg on his face. All self-inflicted.

Not only has he had to stand up and embrace the Queens Wharf option he so recently opposed, but by doing it without consultation, he comes across as not having much regard for these democratic processes.

The governing Auckland Council was not consulted. Nor did he wait for the grand waterfront master plan to be completed. This is the new planning tool which, he said back in November, would "confirm our final options for the development of the waterfront, in particular the cruise ship terminal".

In the run-up to the election, Mr Brown succumbed to the $200 million Captain Cook Wharf terminal proposal advocated by architect Gordon Moller.

Whatever its merits, this scheme was never a runner for many reasons, the prime one being the Government, the Auckland Regional Council and Ports of Auckland had already signed a deal over the future of Queens Wharf which incorporated a cruise ship terminal. It was a contract any future Auckland mayor was going to find ruinously expensive to wriggle out of.

Candidate Brown was reminded of this during the campaign, but chose to continue waxing lyrical about his expensive alternative. It was as though if he closed his eyes long enough, the deal already struck on the future of Queens Wharf would somehow not be his to worry about when elected mayor of the new Super City.

To meet Prime Minister John Key's desire for a Queens Wharf "party central" base for the Rugby World Cup, the Government had joined with the ARC in mid-2009 to buy the wharf from Ports of Auckland for $40 million, the cost split equally.

The politicians agreed to fund a new cruise ship terminal on the wharf. In return, the public would be allowed free access to the wharf, as long as it didn't interfere with cruise ship activities. Ratepayers would also pay $4.1 million in annual operating costs, and in return, the port company would accept responsibility for dredging around the wharf and for the long-term maintenance of the under-wharf structure.

For the new mayor to renege on this undertaking would have been setting himself on a collision course with both the Government and Ports of Auckland. The Government could have demanded its $20 million back. The port company could have walked away from its deal to maintain the wharf. The port could also have sought damages for the city's failure to deliver a passenger terminal.

It's easy to argue that as its 100 per cent owner, the Super City could tell the port company what to do. But the 1988 Port Companies Act was enacted to ensure port companies are run on strictly commercial lines and not subjected to blatant political manipulations of that kind. At the time the wharf changed hands, the talk was of a cruise ship terminal that would double as "party central" for the Rugby World Cup.

Auckland City politicians were given a choice of four design options, ranging from a $52.1 million bargain-basement model through to a $141 "iconic" model. They voted for an $84 million conversion of the two existing wharf sheds, then lost interest. Subsequently came a public design contest specifying a budget of $47 million, but after surveying around 260 entries, ARC chairman Mike Lee dismissed the finalists as "lacklustre, underwhelming and mediocre" and called the contest off.

Early last year, with more than a hint of desperation, a cruise ship industry spokesman said they'd be quite happy with a $6 million to $10 million, functional, shed-like facility on the wharf. Which sounded very much like a big nudge to do up the larger of the two remaining wharf cargo sheds.

This now seems to be the substance of Mr Brown's proposal. Which brings him back to square one - but now encumbered with a burden of broken promises.

Perhaps the most damaging legacy is that in initially backing a Captain Cook option, then changing his mind and backing the status quo, all without consulting his colleagues or waiting for a plan to be drawn up, Mr Brown leaves the distinct message that such democratic niceties don't really matter.