CONTROVERSIAL Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie said he would stand for the top job again if the candidates at the next local government election were ‘‘second-rate’’.
Cr MacKenzie, who became the first popularly-elected mayor in 2012, said he would make up his mind after seeing who was nominated at the next poll.
‘‘If there are decent nominations for mayor, perhaps I will ride into the wilderness,’’ he said.
‘‘But if there are second-rate nominations, which I expect we will see some of, I might just stick around for a while longer.’’
The 75-year-old makes no apologies for the tactics employed to gain a voting majority at the last election and said other candidates tried the same thing with ‘‘less success’’.
It was revealed by the Newcastle Herald on Saturday that the multimillionaire mayor, who runs a Salt Ash sand-mining business with the potential to turn over $1.5billion over 30 years, had links to 31 of the 66 candidates at the last poll. He also contributed to the campaigns of eight of his political rivals.
‘‘It was an election campaign; everyone runs election campaigns,’’ he said.
‘‘If you stand for election, you don’t stand to get beat; you stand to win. I have no regrets and would do it all again the same.’’
Cr MacKenzie and his Liberal Party backers used backroom preference deals to help secure seven of the 10 council seats, and a solid pro-development voting majority. Speculation is rife that dummy candidates and groups were used to channel preferences to the MacKenzie team.
Close political ally and president of the Port Stephens Liberal Party Cr Steve Tucker said the same preference-swapping tactic using aligned ‘‘independent’’ groups would be used at the next election.
The strategy takes advantage of people who vote above the line, because they give away their right to choose their own preferences.
‘‘The only backlash has been from the people who lost,’’ Cr Tucker said. ‘‘A lot of people have said it was a good plan and have congratulated us.’’
There has been widespread speculation that Cr Ken Jordan, named by Cr Tucker as one of the masterminds behind the calculated numbers game at the 2012 poll, could stand for mayor in 2016.
Cr Jordan, who has since distanced himself from the Liberal driven ‘‘master plan’’, said he considered running himself in 2012, but was concerned with finding the balance between his work and civic duties.
‘‘The reality is I’m a school teacher and I believe the mayor job is bordering on being full time. I did speak to [general manager] Peter Gesling about the possibility of running [but] in the end I chose not to,’’ he said.
He would not rule out a tilt in 2016 though.
‘‘It will depend on my situation and whether I can commit the time.’’
Ever defiant, the MacKenzie team has shrugged off criticism as ‘‘sour grapes’’ and said it was ‘‘achieving real results’’.
Cr MacKenzie, who holds the dubious honour of being the first, then second, local councillor in NSW suspended by a pecuniary interest tribunal, said his involvement on council had nothing to do with his widespread Port Stephens business interests.
He said comments by anti-corruption campaigner John Hatton in the Herald yesterday that local government was being taken over by people who ‘‘don’t give a damn about community interest’’ were ‘‘absolute rubbish’’.
‘‘I am not on council, nor have I ever been, to enhance my chances of getting the sand mine through,’’ he said.
‘‘Let them come up with some proof, because it’s not true. The sand mine was approved by the state government.’’