Half of Auckland may be surprised that Mayor Len Brown looks likely to be re-elected without serious opposition this year. They are the half who are accustomed to local elections being a revolving door. Voters on the isthmus and the North Shore used to be fickle, frequently dumping a mayor after one term. Manukau and Waitakere were the opposite, returning mayors such as Sir Lloyd Elsmore, Sir Barry Curtis and Sir Bob Harvey for periods of 18 to 21 years.

The first mayor of a united Auckland, Len Brown, comes from the Manukau tradition. He challenged Sir Barry Curtis unsuccessfully until the incumbent was ready to retire, just as Sir Barry had to wait until Sir Lloyd went gracefully. Mr Brown could be on the verge of becoming another long-server if he faces no worthy challenge at the election this year.

Christine Fletcher, a former isthmus mayor, used to be the most likely candidate among the non-Labour minority of the Auckland Council but she is now uncertain whether to stand even for the council again. A former North Shore mayor, George Wood, and Manukau's Dick Quax seemed to be positioning themselves at times, but have not stepped forward.

If the younger Cameron Brewer is planning to wait a further three years, he should consider how much more secure Mr Brown might be by then. Incumbency can be a powerful force. Even the isthmus has stopped its door revolving for incumbents as popular as "Robbie" - Sir Dove-Myer Robinson - and Dame Cath Tizard. The longer they stayed, the more entrenched they became in the city's identity and affection.


It is too soon to see Mr Brown acquiring comparable appeal and it might be good for the foundation of the "Super City" that he does. But the united mayoralty matters more than those before. It is more powerful not only for the larger territory it commands but for the executive powers given to the office. The use of those powers ought to be subjected to the scrutiny and criticism of a hotly contested election every three years.

Mr Brown has made cautious use of them, proposing budgets that kept council spending under control and beginning the amalgamation of rates of the former municipalities to no sustained outcry. He has campaigned for commuter rail services and higher-density residential to support them, presenting these as his "vision".

They were not - their planning was well advanced by the former regional council before he came to office. Mr Brown's contribution was to add rail links to the airport and the North Shore to the plan. Both appear to have been quietly dropped for the time being so he can concentrate on an underground rail link to complete an inner-city circle.

That project can make little headway while the Government fears its cost and doubts its benefits, but a route has been designated. Possibly not the best one.

He was sensibly restrained in the most difficult issue he has faced in his first term, the port dispute. His refusal to take sides disappointed his political supporters but it was his duty to back the port board or sack it. He kept his focus firmly on the port's financial performance. But he is unlikely ever to advocate the port's partial privatisation that would expose it to the sharemarket disciplines on its main rival, Tauranga.

Auckland needs alternatives to consider. A Super City mayoral campaign is a costly and difficult undertaking but Auckland needs a good contest. Without a mayoral candidate a rival council ticket cannot be effective and fewer will bother to vote. That is not the endorsement the mayor and the council need.