THE day before running an investigative series on how Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie and his “Liberal-leaning” mates used an intricate web of preference deals to take control of the last local government election, I phoned the controversial mayor.
It was a simple housekeeping call.
I wanted to let him know my colleague, Michael McGowan, and I had finished digging.
We were publishing tomorrow and I was checking to see if he had anything further to add about revelations that he’d used a calculated numbers game, never seen on such a scale in Hunter local government elections, to cement his leadership and help deliver seven of 10 council seats, better known as a solid voting majority.
The call stayed a simple one.
What followed went broadly like this:
Me: “You know we’re running the story tomorrow, there’s accusations that you used dummy candidates, just wanted to let you know and see if there was anything more you had to say.”
Bruce: “You can say anything you like about me, Donna. People can say anything they like about me. I’ve been in this game long enough to have thick skin. You know me, I’m happy to cop it on the chin, I’ve been doing it for years. Nothing bothers me.”
It’s a conversation that we’d had numerous times over many years. There were no surprises.
The high-profile mayor has always taken pride in having what himself, friends and foes alike describe as “thick skin”.
As a colossus of Port Stephens politics for 50 years and larger-than-life figure in business, Cr MacKenzie is used to throwing his weight around and taking hits from opponents.
Below average height and approaching 80, he’s no shrinking violet. A legend in Port Stephens for his razor put-downs and unashamed propensity to bend the rules, his popularity has withstood decades of controversy.
He proudly holds the dubious honour of being the first, then the second, local councillor in NSW suspended by a pecuniary interest tribunal.
“You totally have to have thick skin,” he was quoted in this newspaper as saying in December 2012. “I ain’t scared of upsetting people.”
The man of a thousand headlines has appeared under them all, “Ballsy Bruce”, “No regrets or apologies” and “Bruce Almighty”.
No surprises there.
But on Thursday, Macka the millionaire mayor - the man most people either love or love to hate - surprised me.
Joanne McCarthy revealed in a front-page story that he is suing two people for defamation over a Facebook post. That’s right, a Facebook post.
The post, made by Port Stephens retail assistant Katrina Harvey, alleged he’d touched two women on the buttocks at a Nelson Bay business awards night.
Cr MacKenzie has denied touching the women and described the allegation as “just laughable”.
Port Stephens Council mayoral hopeful and Labor candidate Des Maslen is also being sued by Cr MacKenzie after re-posting Ms Harvey’s post.
Mr Maslen and Ms Harvey are defending the matter.
The question I was left with after reading about the case is: “What’s changed, Bruce?”
Perhaps that curious quality that has made you like teflon for so many years is starting to wear off.