John Tamihere has been in public life for over two decades. At 40, after an early career in the law and Māori affairs, he was elected to Parliament and for a time seemed destined for high office.

He got to cabinet after just three years as a backbencher, but his political trajectory came crashing down after a series of controversies, some of them self-inflicted.

He has stayed however in the public spotlight, with an energetic media profile and, crucially, a long involvement with Te Whānau o Waipareira, the impressive West Auckland Māori enterprise.

As we report today, he is contemplating a return to the political arena by taking on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.

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The catalyst for this appears to be a dispute between Panuku Development, Auckland Council's urban development agency, and Waipareira. Panuku wanted to develop council land at Papatoetoe, and proposed that just over 30 per cent could be allocated to lower cost social housing.

A frustrated Tamihere argued this was insufficient to meet the needs of low income South Aucklanders and suggested that his organisation could build 200 low cost homes on the property. He argues the 30 per cent cap was a barrier to those with housing needs and that a figure nearer 50 per cent was appropriate.

He has raised the prospect of taking Panuku to court for what he perceives to be breaches of the Human Rights Act, though that legislation seems a long way removed from the agency's role of property development on behalf of council.

On the face of it, the argument appears a strange platform for Tamihere to relaunch his political career, but then again the territory — housing affordability, low income communities, council bureaucrats — is where much of his recent public commentary has been aimed.

Should he decide however to run for council it would enliven next year's civic elections, though it is far from certain that he could get his hands on the chains of office. It is worth noting too that the mayor has one vote around the council table — he is not the CEO where he can make things happen.

Tamihere's career has been marked by bravery and foolishness. He stood beside his brother during the Swedish backpacker case, a period he says was painful for his elderly parents. Waipareira is testament to the energy and drive he can harness. Yet his copybook has been marked by loose comments — the Roastbuster affair was a costly mistake — and impulsiveness.

Both Goff and Tamihere have strong Labour backgrounds, though Goff campaigned for office as an independent. The mayor's political home is on the centre right. Tamihere sits on the centre left of the spectrum. As is clear from a series of columns in the Herald, Tamihere has framed himself as a champion of working and low income Aucklanders, and a trenchant critic of wealthy individuals who in his view have done little to better the broader community.

Whether that rhetoric would draw sufficient votes to unseat Goff - should he run again - is unclear. What is more likely is that a Goff-Tamihere contest could split the constituency which sent Goff into office and hand the mayoralty to a centre right candidate.

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Goff won 187,622 votes to secure the mayoralty. His closest rival, the centre right candidate Vic Crone, collected 111,731 votes. With those sort of numbers it would seem that a head-to-head battle would open the door to a third contender.

That is not the outcome that Tamihere would want. His best option would be to run without Goff in the race. The next 12 months in Auckland city politics could be about to get a lot more interesting.