Leung Chun-ying beat the odds and captured the city's top job by winning popular support, and his popularity will regain its peak level by the time he takes office in July, a top campaign aide said yesterday. Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, Leung's campaign office chairman, reviewed the campaign's ups and downs in a wide-ranging interview with the South China Morning Post. The early days were made difficult because some of Leung's backers did not want their support publicised, since rival Henry Tang Ying-yen was widely seen as Beijing's favourite. 'We faced a tough start because there were people spreading rumours, saying the central government had hand-picked [Tang],' Cheung said. 'Some electors asked us not to disclose that they had nominated Leung 'until absolute necessary'. That made our campaign very difficult, especially when we were canvassing for the first 100 nominations,' he said. The strategy of Leung, the former Executive Council convenor, was to take his electioneering to the streets and reach out to different levels of society, even though ballots would be cast only by 1,193 members of the Election Committee. He attended dozens of policy forums and visited local communities, with a street-level fund-raising campaign to 'increase the [public] sense of participation', Cheung said. An underdog with only single-digit support in popularity polls in the middle of last year, Leung's popularity peaked at 53.7 per cent in late February - with a lead over Tang of almost 37 percentage points. 'From the moment Leung's popularity exceeded 40 per cent [in November], we began to feel that our previous efforts were paying off,' Cheung said. The campaign reached a critical moment on the evening of February 8, when a government statement alerted the media that Leung was under suspicion of conflict of interest as a judge in a 2001 design contest for the West Kowloon cultural hub. Leung, who had 'orchestrated and masterminded' the campaign, decided to respond immediately, Cheung said. Other interactions with the media could have been better handled, Cheung acknowledged. Leung should have responded sooner to a media report saying he had lost his investment in British property firm DTZ; and he would have done better to remain silent instead of accusing a Sing Tao Daily reporter of using smear tactics, Cheung said. Leung's popularity suffered a major blow on March 16 - plunging to 35 per cent - when Tang accused him of favouring the use of riot police and tear gas against demonstrators in 2003. Leung denied the accusations, but that did not stop critics from calling him crafty and ruthless, and caricaturing him as a wolf. Now that he had won, Leung would continue to reach out to the public before he took over the top job, Cheung said. 'I believe his popularity can recover to its peak level by the time he assumes the job on July 1,' he said. Members of Tang's campaign team declined to be interviewed by the Post.