Another day, another contested election defeat! That’s 42 and counting.

However, as The Age reported this morning, the ballot to see who would be full-time major of Manningham City Council in 2010 came down to a knife-edge 5-4 vote.

You would think that Kevin Andrews’ safe federal seat of Menzies in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs would be the last place to see a Labor-controlled council, but that has now happened at Manningham.

After six new councillors swept into office last November, 25-year-old socialist left-faction number cruncher Charles Pick went from being the lone Labor ranger in the previous council to mayor, beating the new Green councillor David Ellis 5-4 in the secret ballot 12 months ago.

I voted for Pick to lead a “reform council”,  which was clearly the most left-wing in Manningham’s history. For instance, over the past year we’ve embraced permanently flying the Aboriginal flag at our civic offices (watch video here:  and a 10-storey social housing project on Doncaster Hill.

Pick initially won without the support of Labor comrade Meg Downie due to ongoing bitterness over a broken preference deal in 2006 but he adeptly turned that around this year.

Ivan Reid, a planning-focused Christian and high-flying IT program manager at VicRoads, also voted for Ellis last year but was persuaded by Pick to join the local Labor branch this year. Downie’s key confidante, Graeme McMillan, and deputy-mayor Fred Chuah were on board Team Pick from the outset.

There was much conflict as the ruling faction emerged, culminating in an entire weekend on governance and several sessions with a mediator from the Victorian Local Governance Association.

In an attempt to head off the Labor factionalism, approaches were made to Fred Chuah, the most reserved and respected member of the group, urging him to stand for mayor in 2010 as a compromise candidate to heal the divisions.

However, Chuah’s got big plans in 2010 to try and dramatically expand the well-run Chinese nursing home he operates in the green wedge. In the absence of Chuah running, I decided to put the hand up as a genuine independent aiming to bring the nine councillors back together while also working more hospitably with our high-quality  management team led by CEO Lydia Wilson.

Mayor Pick talked about wanting to crank up his lobbying business and getting married in 2010, so he wasn’t even a confirmed candidate until minutes before the ballot on Monday night.

Cordial discussions were held with all but one of the ruling five but none would commit either way on the key question of who they would back in a contest between Pick and me.

However, when it did become clear no other member of the five had the numbers, Pick persuaded them only he could keep power within the Labor-led group and deliver on pet projects and issues.

The process on Monday night was fair enough with speeches from both candidates, a 30-minute discussion and then 10 minutes where we left the room and chatted amiably, even having a wager that ended up costing Pick $50.

The solidarity of the five was evident when they voted 5-4 to have an open ballot, ensuring any treachery would be open for all to see. And when it came to the vote, up went the five hands meaning Manningham had selected its first back-to-back mayor in a decade.

The whole situation blew up on the floor at the annual meeting last night when convention has it that the mayor is unanimously elected in public and then welcomed with generous speeches.

I politely put the 5-4 vote on the record while congratulating and praising Pick but then David Ellis, the Green candidate against Kevin Andrews in 2007, stepped up with a more blunt assessment of the factionalism.

Labor comrades Downie and Reid ran apparently scripted point-of-order interjections and mayor Pick at one point attempted to shut down the criticism of his own re-election.

All up, it wasn’t a very edifying scene and the public is now aware of the Labor factionalism that has engulfed Manningham, a council that for many years has been free of party political divisions.

That said, Pick has been performing better in recent months and he has delivered truckloads of grant funds from his fellow comrades in Canberra and Spring Street. Anthony Albanese even dropped in one afternoon to give us $5 million. It’s hard to imagine Albo doing that if I was mayor.

*Any tips on how to break down a Labor faction can be sent to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey