Respected Melbourne City Councillor Jennifer Kanis looks set to succeed Bronwyn Pike as the next state member for Melbourne, after Victoria’s joint longest-serving female minister pulled the pin on her political career early this afternoon.

Kanis, a Holding Redlich lawyer who recently returned to work at city hall after the birth of her first child, has impressed branch members and Labor identities with her razor-sharp policy nous after her election to the MCC in 2008.

She was planning to renominate for a councillor position at this year’s MCC election, but is now expected to contest the Labor preselection ballot.

Pike, elected to parliament in 1999, was due to quit the party at a press conference at 1pm today. Her departure brings to three the number of former Labor ministers who have resigned since the 2010 poll, following the exits of John Brumby and Rob Hulls.

Pike extended her margin in Melbourne from 2% in 2006 to 6% in 2010 off the back of a Liberal decision to allocate preferences to her rather than the Greens’ Brian Walters. The move, which played well with Ted Baillieu’s base, would be expected to be repeated at the coming byelection, all but guaranteeing Kanis the seat.

There is a chance the Liberals wouldn’t run, although this could be regarded as a weak political move with Daniel Andrews closing the polling gap (there was no Liberal candidate in previous byelections in Niddrie and Broadmeadows). In that scenario, up to half of the around 25% of Liberal voters in the seat could decide to back the Greens in “anyone but Labor” maneuver, turning the two horse race into a squeaker.

Possible Greens opponents include former state Essendon candidate and Moonee Valley councillor Rose Iser, two party insiders told Crikey today. Iser is believed to be close to the Greens’ sole lower house federal MP Adam Bandt for whom she works as an adviser. Blue chip lawyer Walters has also been mentioned in dispatches. The Greens preselection process is decided via a grassroots vote, although a recommendation from Bandt would be expected to carry some weight.

A senior Labor Left source told Crikey this morning that Kanis had broad support from the branches in the seat, which include Flemington, Carlton and North Melbourne. There are about 300 members in Melbourne, but not all would be eligible to vote.

Another prospective candidate, Jenny Macklin staffer Sarah Broadbent, is also in contention but would be expected to back Kanis in any ballot. The democratic process would be rigorously adhered to, the source said.

The candidate will be decided through a 50-50 vote of local branch members inside the Melbourne District and the Public Office Selection Committee which reflects the factional make-up of state conference.

State Labor’s powerful administrative committee will meet this week to formally accept Pike’s resignation and outline the timetable for the preselection, while the Victorian Electoral Commission will be tasked with laying down the date for the vote.

Kanis, who along with Greens councillor Cathy Oke was one of the first elected figures to speak out about Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s dubious tactics on Occupy Melbourne, did not return a call this morning.