EDITORIAL: Fascinating council election is taking shape

Nuatali Nelmes’ statement on Tuesday that she’ll vote against a possible 22 per cent pay increase and direct the extra money to help fund upgrades to the Wallsend town centre is not without precedent.

In fact, this same council, under Cr Nelmes’ stewardship, did exactly the same thing in 2015.

So it would be unfair to say that her decision is down to the fact that there’s an election in September.

But it would also be naive to think that it had nothing to do with it.

In the space of a few months, the likelihood of Cr Nelmes’ re-election has become cloudier.

At the start of this year, the council’s finances were tracking nicely, long-term projects like Bather’s Way were coming to fruition and the council was revelling in an influx of funding from the NSW government for projects like the Hunter Innovation Project.

For the Lord Mayor too, things were looking rosy. The Liberal Party lacked a clear mayoral contender, and no prominent independents were making the kinds of noises that suggested they were interested in running.

2017 hasn’t quite panned out the way it might have, though. 

The V8 Supercars race has become headache that the council is caught in the middle of, and the hiring of a new chief executive became a tainted, partisan nightmare.

And Cr Nelmes’ personal standing has been dragged down by a damaging furore over her expenses. 

Whether she actually did anything wrong is mostly irrelevant – the sight of Newcastle’s lord mayor being hounded out the front of her home by A Current Affair reporters isn’t a vote winner.

And now, enter Jeff McCloy. The man Cr Nelmes replaced is making no secret of the fact that he’s considering running.

Should he put his hand up, Mr McCloy will carry the baggage of his tangles with the Independent Commission Against Corruption. At the moment, Newcastle’s Labor types don’t seem worried. 

But there’s little doubt they would prefer a mayoral race minus Mr McCloy, because the former lord mayor – straight talking, witty, a Donald Trump admirer – is exactly the candidate who could again trump Labor.

With the election just three months away, things are about to get fascinating.

Issue: 38,511