Phil Goff has rejected criticism that spending at Auckland Council got out of control under his watch, saying he's as 'as mean as you get'.
Fellow ex-Labour MP John Tamihere has set his sights on toppling Mr Goff when Aucklanders vote later this year. Both are former Labour MPs, but Mr Tamihere's not pulling any punches, calling Mr Goff a "puppet" and his promise of slightly higher rates increases "most unusual".
Mr Goff launched his campaign for re-election over the weekend, saying rates rises will need to be a bit higher - 3.5 percent - over the next few years to pay for what Auckland needs.
"I guess we all want to go to heaven but none of us want to die," he told NZME on Sunday.
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Mr Tamihere responded by calling the council's spending and debt levels "out of control". Mr Goff understandably disagrees, saying he's cut the council's wage bill by $20 million despite the city's growing population, and its travel budget is down by a third.
"I don't have a chauffeur-driven car. The days when [Christine] Fletcher was Mayor, she had a Daimler and two chauffeurs - and the city was a fifth the size. I'm as mean as you get in terms of perks to Councillors. But you know, the stuff we're investing money in is $28 billion into our transport network, billions of dollars into services."
Ms Fletcher is running as Mr Tamihere's deputy.
Mr Goff has introduced new charges over and above the usual rates hikes however - including the regional fuel tax and a targeted rate for "water and environmental enhancement". But he says the public support those.
"I went back to the people of Auckland and said, 'We've been pouring our wastewater into our beaches and our harbours for 90 years - do you want me to do something about it? And are you prepared to put some money towards it if we do? Do you want us to do something about kauri dieback, or do you want to see kauri trees die out?'
"And by a margin of two or three to one, in both a Colmar-Brunton poll we did… and the submissions, people said yeah Phil, we're ready to do that. Just get on and do it."
Billions has also been allocated for Watercare's Central Interceptor, a 13km-long pipe that Mr Goff says will reduce the amount of wastewater being dumped onto the city's beaches and in its harbours.
"Go through everything that I promised during the 2016 campaign - I'm an old campaigner, I didn't promise what I thought I couldn't deliver - and you will find that I have fulfilled the things I set out to do."
As for housing - arguably Auckland's biggest problem alongside transport - Mr Goff says in the year to January, there was an all-time record 13,262 new homes consented, and up to 11,000 built - three times more than a decade ago. With slightly lower immigration than in recent years, that's helping get on top of the housing crisis.
"I think actually we're probably now keeping pace with the growth in the city, but we've got a backlog to deal with."
Fixing the city's congestion could take longer. Mr Goff says there are now so many extra buses running routes through his old electorate of Mt Roskill, they're now getting congested too.
"What do you do when you can't fit any more buses on the road? You have to go to light rail. Do you turn around the problems of 30 years in 2.5 years? Of course you don't. But you lay the foundation for doing it, and that's what we've done."
National opposes light rail, but leader Simon Bridges told The AM Show he doesn't mind who wins the mayoralty.
"I'll have to work with whichever one it is. I like them both."