Auckland Mayor Len Brown has lost the backing of key members of his campaign team, who are turning their attention to other left-leaning candidates at next year's local body elections.
The Herald has learned of a meeting last month where key campaign and mayoral advisers delivered the "blunt message" to Mr Brown that he has no chance of winning and should step down.
Mr Brown was told he would receive no financial backing, political support or volunteers to erect billboards and deliver pamphlets for a campaign where his sex life would be centre stage.
One source said Mr Brown's wife, Shan Inglis, who stuck by her husband after the publicised affair with council adviser Bevan Chuang, did not deserve to be "dragged through the sewer" again.
Last night, Mr Brown issued a statement saying he enjoyed the support of his campaign team.
"I meet with lots of people all of the time who give me advice on all sorts of things, that's the nature of the job," Mr Brown said.
At least two of Mr Brown's inner circle have held talks with Mt Roskill MP and former Labour leader Phil Goff about standing for the mayoralty.
There is also support for deputy mayor Penny Hulse, who has expressed interest but said she would never stand against Mr Brown.
It is understood Mr Brown was shaken by the actions of his campaign team and mayoral staff, some of whom are longstanding friends. He has not responded to their request.
Mr Goff could not be reached yesterday, but has said he would consider contesting the mayoralty "but I don't believe that is where my career path is currently taking me".
The 61-year-old former foreign affairs minister is keen on an overseas posting, but needs to weigh up the chances of Labour winning office for that opportunity to arise.
Present at the meeting with Mr Brown were key members of his campaign team - Labour strategist Conor Roberts, who ran the mayor's successful 2010 election campaign; David Lewis, chief press secretary to former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark who ran Mr Brown's 2013 election campaign; advertising guru Mike Hutcheson; and Pacific Events Centre chief executive Richard Jeffery.
Two senior mayoral staff were also present, chief of staff Phil Wilson and chief policy and political adviser James Bews-Hair.
The meeting was confirmed by four sources, none of whom wanted to speak on the record.
One source said Mr Brown would struggle to raise money for a campaign, where the limit for mayoral candidates next year is $618,300.
On the right, former Act leader and Auckland City mayor John Banks and Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett have said they could challenge Mr Brown.
Mr Banks is considering resurrecting his political career after the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction for failing to disclose donations from Kim Dotcom to his mayoralty campaign in 2010.
He is now seeking to have a second trial for filing a false electoral return thrown out after the discovery of evidence which the Crown failed to disclose to his lawyer.
An online Herald poll following a December story about possible mayoral contenders attracted nearly 5000 votes.
The unscientific survey showed Mr Goff as the preferred candidate on 26 per cent, followed by John Banks (22), Michael Barnett (15), Maurice Williamson (14), Penny Hulse (13), Mr Brown (5) and John Palino (5).
This week, Mr Barnett accused the council of "jumping from crisis to crisis" after Mr Brown and councillors were blindsided by a number of issues hitting the headlines, including a London posting by the council's economic development arm, wharf extensions at the port, and resource consent to fell a kauri tree in Titirangi.
Grey Power Auckland zone director Bill Rayner said there was a growing perception that the mayor and councillors no longer had effective control of council.
Loss of support
• Campaign and mayoral advisers urge Len Brown to step down at the next election
• They say he has no chance of winning and his sex life will dominate the campaign
• Key advisers turn attention to Phil Goff or Penny Hulse
• Brown says he has support of his campaign team and gets advice "on all sorts of things"