Linda Scott is poised to succeed Meredith Burgmann as Labor’s sole Sydney City councillor following the party’s weekend primary experiment that saw the refugee activist pip Cameron Murphy for the chance to lose to Clover Moore in September’s mayoral poll.

Scott edged out Murphy in Saturday’s vote, split 50-50 between the 600 eligible ALP voters in the area and the 70,000-strong local community, by 53% to 47%. While Scott is considered a marginal prospect against the dog-collared incumbent, under City of Sydney ballot rules she should gain enough votes to be appointed as one of eight regular councillors.

On the Left-dominated party side — according to an informative scrute summary flicked to Crikey by Murphy campaign manager Damian O’Connor — Scott led the NSW Civil Liberties’ chief by just 10 votes, 174-164, after preferences were distributed from restaurateur Jonathan Yee, social finance entrepreneur Cassandra Wilkinson and legal type Damian Spruce. However, Labor’s 20% affirmative action weighting inflated Scott’s party vote by about 35 to 209.

Murphy trumped Scott on the public half by 902 to 867, but Scott benefited from a preference deal to emerge victorious by about 1800 to 1700. Adding the two sides together, Scott won 53.4/46.7 (or 51/49 without the AA weighting). In total, 4331 votes were counted, according to ALP HQ, about half as many as voted for the Labor in the 2008 lord mayor contest.

In a weekend note to Murphy’s entourage, O’Connor, a NSW former Left assistant secretary, was happy with “son of Lionel’s” performance during the marathon three-month campaign: “It was a very close second for Cameron, and a hugely impressive effort for a candidate with a great record and story but a standing start in the branches eight weeks ago when this all started. His profile and experience makes him a very reliable candidate. ”

Labor will now hold regular rank-and-file preselections for the two remaining processes — the selection of a candidate to run in the Sydney lower house byelection triggered by Moore’s forced resignation under Barry O’Farrell’s “get Clover” law — and the positions of 2-8 on its CoS ballot paper that Murphy isn’t contesting.

When polls opened three weeks ago, the primary was rocked by a branch stacking and preference scandal focused on Yee’s Chinatown connections. However, while drawing strong support from the community, the Emperors’ Garden manager only managed 54 party votes.

Murphy said he would now take two weeks off and then pitch in behind Scott to help improve Labor’s base mayoral vote, which currently sits at about 60% of a quota.

“I am humbled by the process, I was exceptionally pleased that I was able to get a significant amount of Labor party members even though I’ve only been to about two branch meetings in 10 years. I think it’s the way forward for the Labor Party. We can learn a lot out of this.”

The US-style primary was expected to be repeated in Sydney, but Labor will be hamstrung by time constraints following the September ballot — after the expected Moore win the Liberal Party will act quickly to back its current CoS councillor Shayne Mallard into the vacant seat, which, like the mayoralty, is considered well out of reach for Labor. (UPDATE: Mallard has announced he will contest the Sydney byelection and withdraw from the mayoral race).

Mallard had previously announced he would also run for lord mayor against Moore — amusingly, if he is elected as a councillor or mayor and then runs and wins Sydney, he could technically hold the two positions simultaneously for the next two years — creating a conflict of interest the law was meant to prevent (Mallard told Crikey he would resign immediately, triggering a byelection before Christmas).

For a gutted ALP at record lows in the polls, a key hurdle will be trying to convert the 6% of the City of Sydney residents that voted into a new vanguard of true believers.

NSW Labor general secretary Sam Dastyari is confident, telling Crikey this morning the byelection was “a massive success”. “We were excited and encouraged about the number of people that participated. The next job is to see how many of these people we can engage in the Labor Party and become Labor Party activists.

“We’re very happy with the number of people that voted,” he said.

Policy issues during the month-long debate included flats in Erskineville, compulsory bike helmets and intrusive liquor licensing laws.

Dastyari has pledged to run at least four more primaries in semi-winnable state seats before 2015 at the urging of Julia Gillard.

Peter Fray

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