Lord Mayor-elect Robert ‘Popeye’ Doyle’s success in the Melbourne City Council elections on Saturday was a triumph of brand-recognition. The former Liberal leader failed to participate in most of the debates, issued only one mailout (other candidates averaged six) and eschewed door knocking altogether. This passive-aggressive approach attracted the ire of candidates like the Greens’ Adam Bandt and Labor’s Peter McMullin who ploughed in masses of their own money. So how’d he do it? Enter 3AW mornings host Neil Mitchell.

Doyle is 3AW royalty, doing weekend fills for the network’s stable of elderly talent and, until recently, popping up each Thursday on Mitchell’s ‘Left-and-Right’ segment opposite unionist Dean Mighell. Yesterday he was formally crowned live on air (listen here), with Mitchell offering him a regular spot to spruik his mayoral views:

Mitchell: Now, Barack Obama’s about to become President, you’re about to become Lord Mayor, we’ve offered him a regular spot on the program, we should talk about the possibility of you doing that next year?

Doyle: I would be absolutely delighted. If I can come on and talk up Melbourne and hear people’s views in particular Neil, I would be delighted and I’d jump at the chance.

Mitchell: Thanks very much, and we’ll talk about it off air.

This Herald Sun column from 25 September now makes for curious reading. In it, Mitchell, crestfallen by Jeff Kennett’s decision to avoid the race, sends out an unsubtle smoke signal:

Any ideas for lord mayor? Eddie McGuire flirted with the idea but rejected it. What about former opposition leader Robert Doyle? He’s passionate about Melbourne and knows how to open doors.

Some of Mitchell’s other suggestions — ex-footballers Kevin Sheedy and James Hird, marathon runner Steve Monaghetti and ex-tennis player (and failed Ian Baker-Finch caddy) Todd Woodbridge read like a ruse to jolt Doyle into action.

After the piece was published, Crikey understands Doyle’s campaign immediately kicked into gear, with staffers approached, running mates canvassed and preference deals weighed, well before the formal announcement on 27 October. Doyle employed many of the same people who ran incumbent John So’s campaigns, a man loved by Spring Street for his complete and utter refusal to contradict Premier John Brumby. Interestingly, Brumby backed Doyle in the lead-up to the poll.

True to form, Doyle hit 3AW first thing on Sunday morning to celebrate his win with some sycophantic banter:

Darren James: Now, I saw you on the television really briefly, opening up Swanston Street, Hallelujah, I think that’s fantastic!

Darren James: Well Robert, last night on Mike Brady’s show we mentioned this and everybody, everybody, with one exception (one guy didn’t want any cars in the city at all), there was not one person that likes the Swanston Street Mall they all want get rid of it.

Co-host: Well it’s a dud.

Robert Doyle: It is a dud. It’s a 20-year failed experiment.

Darren James: Clever! That’s the stuff, that’s the stuff! [on Doyle’s proposal to turn an ex-bank in Bourke Street into a police station]. We have to move on but Robert, if you do become Lord Mayor just finally, don’t forget us here on a Sunday morning will you?

Co-host: This is where is all started for you. Remember that?

Doyle followed up yesterday morning with Mitchell, who quickly took personal credit for the victory. Doyle pledged to ban bogans from the CBD and floated a crackdown on buskers:

Mitchell: First today though, what have we started? This idea was first raised publically on this program, at least. I followed it up with a column in the Herald Sun. It has come to pass. Robert Doyle has been elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

Robert Doyle, do I have to call you ‘Your Worship’ yet?

Doyle: Ah no, just Rob will do thanks Neil.

Mitchell: Congratulations!

Doyle: We actually did germinate this idea on your program, as you recall.

Compare these alleged interviews with the vicious treatment dished out by Mitchell to independent Will Fowles, whose bid was derailed after missing out on official ALP endorsement in favour of McMullin, despite the backing of rank and file ALP members. Mitchell mocks Fowles for a CCTV proposal and then accuses him of raiding the MCC membership database to find his personal phone number. He ends the interview thusly:

Mitchell: Thank-you for speaking with us.

Fowles: You’re Welcome.

Mitchell: Um, (laughter), dear me. And the other candidate was the Greens bloke. Oh, the City of Melbourne, have a look it’s a beautiful day, it’s a magnificent day, and the quality of people we’re putting up who want to run for Lord Mayor. Robert Doyle might yet. He’s starting to look good.

As the vote went down to the wire on Saturday, candidates like Catherine Ng thought they were still in with a chance — but it’s clear Melbourne’s power elite picked their preferred Lord Mayoral candidate months ago. They have every reason to join Lord Mayor Doyle in knocking back some bubbly over the silly season.