So will he or wont he? The Great Race for the Chains and Robes begins to take form

Michael Warner has a good historical summary of the race for the keys to the Lord Mayor’s Limo in today’s Sunday Herald Sun News paper . There has been a lot of speculation in the media this as the punters and would be Robe and Chains Hunters begin to mark their claims for the title of contenders.

John So

John So has yet to declare his hand but everyone expects he will be in in the race to become Melbourne Mascot Lord Mayor for a third term.

If John So will run he will find it a much more difficult challenge then he did last time around.

Most, if not all, of John’s opponents will be seeking to ensure he does not win a third term. John So is unlikely to secure the level of support he received back in 2004 and his ploy of pleading to the electorate to give him their second preference may not deliver the same result as it did last time around. Odds are he will not secure a majority of the Council and will at best only win two of the seven Council seats on offer placing a So lead team in a not so strong position.

Jeff Kennett

Speculation has been rife that former Premier Jeff Kennett will put in a bid to be restored to public life. Jeff is not seen as a serious contender by insiders as he previously has toyed with the media and the idea of nominating for the City’s number one but never followed through with the notion. It is unlikely he will do so again either. However he has John So and his team spitting dim sims at the prospect of facing such a political legend – a legend in his own mind.

Jeff Kennett really did not serve Melbourne well under his reign of terror, bad planning and municipal reform. In many ways Jeff Kennett is to blame for much of the mess and malice that the Council now faces. Jeff stripped the city of its asserts and reduced its size and influence to the point that the Council is perpetually dysfunctional.

Major projects under Jeff Kennett was a complete disaster that saw ill-considered and poor planning have a negative impact on Melbourne’s future. (over 12 years on and we still are suffering the effects). The relocation of the Melbourne Museum to the Carlton Gardens and the development of Federation square being the classic tale of missed opportunities and poor long term strategic planning.

Eddie McGuire

The famous and talented Eddie McGuire gets a nomination but he also is not a serious player. Why would he when is doing fine what he is doing now and taking on the LM’s position is not part of his long game play. Having to deal with the Council bureaucracy is such a daunting task. (But he would be welcomed if he nominated)

Bill Fowles

Young Bill Fowler, son of the Fowles auction house emporium, jumped the gun and announced his bid to seek ALP pre-selection and endorsement for the right to run as Lord Mayor. His proposed running mate is Kate Redwood, who could be his down fall. (Surely if he is serious he can and should find someone better to run with)

Kate Redwood, a former City Councillor and part time member of the ALP, has been a non-event careerist in the past. Redwood is more interested in securing lurks and perks, postings on various governmental boards to top up her meager salary and taking advantage of the numerous career advancement opportunities that being a City Councilor can offer then good governance. (Who can forget her $20,000 ten-day, first class accommodation, world tour junket she took paid for by Melbourne’s ratepayers just before she lost office back in 2004).

The ALP has yet to decide if it will endorse any candidates and in the past it has been reluctant to do so.

A team with Redwood as a support act is unlikely to attract any serious attention and it is doubtful that the ALP will endorse candidates anyway. If it does then it is the Party that will decide who is to head-up and comprise an ALP endorsed team.

If Bill Fowles does run, chances are he will end up going the same way as Peter McMullin, former one-year-term Deputy Lord Mayor’s efforts back in 2001.

Adam Bandt

The Greens nominated Adam Bandt. The Green’s feel their on a roll having Richard Di Natale come within 2-3% of winning the State seat of Melbourne agianst embattled Local State ALP Member Bronwyn Pike in 2006 and Adam Bandt trying to bump-off Lindsay Tanner in 2007. Whilst the Greens will be expected to win a position on the Council it is unlikely they will have the chance to win the Lord Mayor’s “Bicycle” seat. The Greens did well in Melbourne under David Risstrom but since his departure they have not really broken though the winning barrier. They will not have the support of the conservative liberal party supporters who gave them a snow flakes chance in a world of global warming back in 2006.

Kevin Chamberlain

The best contender to date is former Lord Mayor, Kevin Chamberlain. Kevin has the skill, knowledge and commitment to do the job and would be candidate worthy of consideration. Problem is Kevin is his own worst enemy at times. A former member of the ALP with strong community ties his brash style has alienated himself from those that would otherwise support him. Melbourne needs Kevin and there are many that believe Kevin would be best running as a Councillor and be assured of a seat at the table then to gamble once more by running for the top job.

In the background

The other player behind the scenes is the State Government of course. Their biggest mistake was letting the genie out of the bottle, thanks to Bob Cameron (former Local Government Minister who recommended, against sound advice, the adoption of a directly elected Lord Mayor).

The Lord Mayor’s position has the potential to turn against its creator.

A politically astute Lord Mayor contender can be a thorn in the State Government’s side, and if won by the opposition, is a position that could be the means and down fall of the State Government. (Remember Yeltsen) Whoever holds the position of Lord Mayor has the possibility to wage a war against the State and could prove a strong tactical position for an opposition to win the next battle scheduled for 2010. This is why there is so much interest in who may and who may not be running.

This most certainly would have the premier and his cabinet concerned if a hostile person was to win the robes and chains. One reason why one John may support the election of the other John.

Winners versus losers

In the midst of the media circus and speculation of who will be the main contenders, it is the City’s residents and ratepayers that really lose out – as the focus of the public attention is on the personalities and not the policies or performance of the Council.

It is early days and the race is not yet in the starting blocks but the fun and games and media speculation has most certainly started.

The search for Melbourne’s new Lord Mayor begins
Michael Warner, Herald Sun Newspaper
August 02, 2008

IN the heady days of the early 1960s Sir Maurice Arnold Nathan, lord mayor of Melbourne, occupied a post of genuine power.

By the time Sir Maurice had hung up his chains in 1963, the long-serving councillor had overseen the establishment of Tullamarine airport, Moomba and the Southern Cross Hotel, and headed the Melbourne Olympic Games organising committee.

He was the VFL chairman and a racing industry board member; he was responsible for widening CBD streets and formed the Victorian Promotion Committee (the original Victorian major events company) with premier Henry Bolte.

Forty-five years later about the best our Lord Mayor can claim is a name change for a city laneway to recognise rockers AC/DC.

But John Chun Sai So, Lord Mayor since 2001, has soared to superstardom anyway.

He’s yet to decide whether to run for a historic third term on November 29, but either way his critics say his legacy will be a series of publicity stunts rather than reform, cultural or concrete.

So’s popularity skyrocketed during the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

The So show peaked when the wealthy restaurateur was crowned the world’s best mayor in an online poll.

But the anti-So forces, and there are plenty, say he’s been nothing more than a Melbourne mascot, a yes man to premiers Bracks and Brumby, and is short on policy or plans for the CBD.

His defenders, and there are a few of those, too, say he’s overseen a council that brought the city’s laneways to life and delivered on minor projects such as CH2, the environmentally friendly building in Little Collins St.

Birrarung Marr and retail hubs at Melbourne Central, QV and the GPO emerged under his stewardship, even if they weren’t his doing.

Others argue that state government reforms of the 1980s and 1990s rendered the lord mayor’s position largely ceremonial.

But the emergence of former premier Jeff Kennett and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire as potential candidates – although McGuire has said he will not run – has raised questions over whether Town Hall and the Lord Mayor can still exert significant influence.

Liberal city councillor Peter Clarke says yes.

He says the only major power lost by the council in the 1980s was when control of planning projects bigger than 25,000sq m was handed to the State Government.

This saw major construction projects such as Crown casino, Melbourne Exhibition Centre, CityLink, Telstra Dome and Federation Square taken out of the council’s hands.

“Outside of that, not much has really changed over all of those years. But the role of the lord mayor is played out differently, given the nature of the personality of the person who inhabits the seat,” he says.

“John So has played the role of a marketing mascot for Melbourne. He’s been all about what famous person you can stand next to. Everything is good news, there’s no bad news.

“The criticism a lot of people would level against John is that he’s a policy vacuum.”

Clarke says a new lord mayor will have the power and legislative authority to shape several key issues

facing the city: traffic congestion, public transport, security, 2am lockouts, festivals, amenities, taxis, the drought and the health of parks and the Yarra River.

“That’s why I think people got more excited about Jeff Kennett running than Eddie McGuire. As much as Eddie has a range of good ideas . . . it might be more marketing – and they’re tired of that with John. They actually want some policy and some action,” he says.

Formed in 1842, the Melbourne City Council predates the Parliament by nine years and played a vital role in forging the city.

Monash University historian Dr David Dunstan says the responsibility for planning, utilities and city trams was once the domain of powerful Town Hall figures such as Sir Maurice, Bernard Evans and Edward Leo Curtis.

“These were very successful, powerful and prestigious figures,” Dr Dunstan said. “And the city council was a much bigger institution geographically.”

Dr Dunstan believes a lord mayor that exerts authority could again emerge. “I don’t think John So has been a good Lord Mayor. There are real issues facing the city to do with energy conservation, global warming, planning, transport and social equity, which he has not handled and I think Kennett would,” he says.

“. . . I don’t think it would be a comedown for Jeff Kennett to be lord mayor of Melbourne. I think that’s the level at which the contest should be played out.

“He’d get a lot of media play. He’d be in the papers every day and would be a de facto leader of the Opposition.”

Dr Dunstan says No silence on CBD binge drinking is typical of his failures to capitalise on his powers.

“John So is no doubt a very nice and capable man, but he’s been completely inarticulate on all these important issues. I think the mayor of the future needs to be much more engaged with urban issues and issues of planning, transport and well being.”

But not everyone is critical.

City councillor David Wilson, who has worked closely with So, says he’s a man of action. “I think he’s been a very good leader. He has a passion for Melbourne and makes decisions on what is best for the city.”

Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, oversees a council that controls the city’s public trans-port network and most major planning projects.

New York’s and London’s mayors also have far greater powers and multi-billion-dollar budgets.

London’s flamboyant new mayor, Boris Johnson, is a case study for what might be achieved by a man such as Kennett.

Johnson, a supremo of conservative politics, has made a splash by banning alcohol on London’s underground tube trains.

He’s also leading a crackdown on street violence and weapons.

New York’s Rudy Giuliani is another legendary mayor who famously enforced an apparently successful but controversial zero-tolerance policy on street crime.

Businessman Ron Walker, lord mayor in 1974, declined to comment on the council, but is believed to be bemused by the declining standard of mayoral candidates.

Former Lord Mayor Kevin Chamberlain (1983-84) says it will take 16 years, or four more terms, for Town Hall to recover from So.

“In the past, the City of Melbourne’s strong financial position gave it significant independence and it was always a sore point for the state government,” says Chamberlain, who is spokesman for city business and residential groups trying to reform the council structure and voting system.

“. . . there is a need for a strong civic leader at the Town Hall who can advocate on behalf of the community and provide independent views on many of the important issues facing the city.”

A candidate such as McGuire or Kennett would also have about $300 million a year, funded by rising rates and parking tickets, to spend.

Clarke says there is only a 50-50 chance Kennett would run.

“People are saying to me: ‘If you speak to Jeffrey, encourage him do it.’ Not because of any political basis, but because they see him as a person who does things.”