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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 10-Sep-2008

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 15

Wordcount: 850

Roll up, roll up for the Lord Mayor’s starring role


Never mind Keating! with its suitably simpering ALP femmes. Heavens Mister Evans/My heart’s in peril, Cheryl, all that. Here in real world (roll up! last days!) Clover versus Meredith is the biggest show in town.

This is to be proud of. London, which generally throws a good mayoral race, ran this year’s old style, as the insults-n-aftershave Ken and Boris Show. Here in Sydney, by contrast, it’ll be two women slugging it out in the ring while the boys hold their mouthguards and water bottles, dodging sweat.

Don’t expect any kind of mud wrestle, though, or wet T-shirt parade. Not from these gals. They’re two serious contenders, Clover and Meredith, each fully equipped with clout, integrity and intelligence. Both have long political experience and grit to match. Both want to win. So how, beyond that, do they measure up?

Clover has runs on the board. Across the board, too. In a single, four-year term and despite the demanding day job, Clover’s mayoral performance has been impressive in breadth as well as depth. But to Clover’s incumbency, Meredith opposes the ALP. In weaponry terms, though, is this daggy, misfiring old blunderbuss an asset?

There are many things a Sydney mayor cannot do. Schools, water, police, transport or, planning of any serious sort. It’s an 1830s role designed for the local butcher or time-serving city solicitor, and casting the City as the state’s golden scapegoat.

Some things have changed. The Lord Mayor is now full-time and popularly elected, less butcher-friendly. But the core powers remain domestic; sweeping, cleaning, tidying and decorating, with a smidgen of development control (though this is largely controlled by the state). Plus – the politically visible bits – parties and “point-at-ables”.

There’s one more tail, pinned onto the lord mayoral donkey by Frank Sartor’s conversion of the job to full-time. This is the more abstract, communications and leadership-type role that in Clover’s term, through her astute and responsive political style, has focused largely on environmental leadership.

Sartor, who was a political freshman with Clover 20 years back when they were indie aldermen and has never forgotten she beat him into Parliament by a decade, must find this galling. He claims to have transformed Sydney in his 12 years as lord mayor. But Clover has achieved in one term more than he did in three – despite doing her MP’s day job with vigour and providing environmental leadership the state would do well to emulate.

Sartor’s record includes Cook and Phillip pool, Customs House and the repaved George Street. But it pales by comparison with Clover’s vast array of pools, parks, libraries, ovals and major restoration projects.

Admittedly, the City now has a rates catchment three times that of old; but Sartor had three times as long. And Clover’s achievements continue. On her watch, Sydney City has become Australia’s first carbon-neutral council, switching its car fleet to hybrid and its energy use to green power. It has installed cyclepaths, including the country’s first CBD cycleway on King Street, fighting the RTA’s baskerville hounds every step. Not waiting for chain-dragging state and federal governments, further, the City has joined the Local Government Emissions-Trading Scheme and initiated debate on urban co- and tri-generation. Timely, given that NSW’s energy-generation now compares unfavourably with Botswana.

And the opposition? Well, Meredith’s is mainly a class platform. This is a surprise, coming from Labor. Then again, you may have noticed how small is the print of the letters “ALP” in Saturday’s poll generally. Distance is no longer a tyranny, if measured from Macquarie Street. Just as John McCain moves into “George who?” mode, local Labor feigns innocence; “strings? what strings?” even as its legs jerk. Meredith wants to redivide the City into wards. Clover wisely opposes this referendum, which can only reignite class warfare and mire council meetings in old-style battles, South Sydney Greeks versus Potts Point Amazons.

But for Meredith, Cleveland Street is a class chasm. Somehow forgetting Redfern’s huge new Rabbitohs stadium, oval, park upgrade, artworks and street improvements, she accuses Clover of underspending on the deep south and promises a new pool in recompense. That’d be nice, since I live there, but in truth I’m already walking distance from three or four Olympic-sized pools.

Meredith chastises Clover for moonlighting, but forgets how often it has paid off, with Clover using her parliamentary presence to the City’s benefit, from opposing bad planning law to supporting small bar changes.

Indeed John Wardle, the muso behind “Raise the Bar”, is on Clover’s ticket, and already the cultural spring is palpable in our streets. Already Melbourne’s young-and-funky bar-babies are drifting to Sydney. (Whereas Meredith, notes Wardle, has long supported the pokies that poisoned Sydney’s live music scene.)

But the biggest, most unwalkroundable reason to vote Clover not Meredith on Saturday is those small backroom letters whispering “Labor”. Mayor Meredith, however she may writhe, would find Labor’s multilevel trough-ligacy inescapable, slowly turning the City’s clean, independent fields of clover to wrestling ponds of sucky, in-yer-eye mud.


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