Amanda Bown

Starter's gun fires on election day race

THE polling booths are open and voting has begun in what will be one of the most tightly-contested elections for years in many parts of the region.

In Lismore, the departure of popular Mayor Merv King means a new person in the top job, but with a field of nine candidates there is no shortage of choice for voters.

At Ballina an intense campaign has led to a flurry of mud-throwing.

At Richmond Valley, sitting Mayor Charlie Cox will get the voters' verdict on some contentious rate rises.

And in Byron Shire, sitting Mayor Jan Barham has six challengers, including former ally John Lazarus and political nemesis Ross Tucker, who she only narrowly beat in 2004.

Here is the state of play in each of the mayoral campaigns as of yesterday:

Ballina Shire

FIVE candidates will be vying for the position of Ballina Shire mayor today - but only one of them was yesterday confident enough to say they would get the top job.

Existing mayor Phillip Silver, who has held the position for the past six years, said he was hopeful he would be re-elected. However, this had been the most intense and competitive election campaign he had experienced.

“My opponents have degraded themselves by making the campaign so personal,” Cr Silver said.

That aside, Cr Silver said he had done everything he could do in his campaign and had now taken the attitude of 'what will be, will be'.

Fellow Ballina Shire mayoral candidate Sharon Cadwallader said she was not overly confident, but was 'pretty relaxed about the whole thing'. “Most locals out there think it is definitely time for change,” she said.

“I'm looking forward to a new era and leaving the old boys behind.”

Current deputy mayor David Wright said while the campaign had been daunting at times, he was impressed by how nice people in the community had been towards him.

“I've been walking around meeting people and set up shop outside Aldi the other day,” Mr Wright, who was mayor from 1999 to 2001, said.

“I was blown away by how interested people are.

“I'm hopeful. It would be life-changing for me. It just depends on the public.”

As far as confidence goes, former deputy mayor John Felsch yesterday took the trophy.

“I'm going to be the new mayor,” he said. “You've got to be optimistic.”

Alan Rich is also in the running. However, he conceded he was a long-shot.

“It was probably pretty optimistic of me to have an attempt. I just wanted to give people a choice,” he said.

Richmond Valley

FEW punters in Richmond Valley were prepared to name a front-runner for mayor this week, and yesterday all four candidates were optimistic about their chances.

Current Mayor Charlie Cox hasn't been door-knocking this week, and is relying on his reputation to get across the line.

“I've worked hard during the past four years and hope that's good enough for the people,” he said.

Mr Cox said he was looking forward to a 'snag and a foot bath', once polling booths close tonight.

Mayoral candidates Col Sullivan and Donella Kinnish gave their knuckles a workout during extensive door-knocking this week, and Mrs Kinnish said her feet were sore after a five-hour stint of dropping flyers in letter boxes.

Mr Sullivan said 10 days at pre-polling booths had also begun to take its toll. He was looking forward to relaxing with a quiet drink tonight.

“It's my grandchild's birthday on Sunday, so either way I'll be celebrating,” he said yesterday.

Mayoral candidate Robert Mustow made sure he didn't do 'anything out of the ordinary' during his campaign.

“I talked to people in the streets like I always do, but I didn't turn up to meetings I normally wouldn't go to,” he said.

Mr Mustow commended the clean campaigns the Richmond Valley candidates had run.

“I've been pleased with how civilised all mayoral candidates have been,” he said.

City of Lismore

THERE are nine contenders for the position of mayor in Lismore, making it one of the most hotly contested council elections in years.

And while headlines have focused on candidates' comments, it is the physical effort involved that makes standing for mayor so daunting.

Jenny Dowell said she had knocked on more than 4000 doors across Lismore and Goonellabah, as well as the villages of Nimbin and Dunoon, during her campaign.

“From all the door-knocking I've done, I've only had one rude response. I thought that man was going to turn the hose on me,” she said.

Ms Dowell said most people had been 'warm, polite and positive'.

“It's very encouraging, but I wouldn't take it as an indication of what the result will be.”

She said getting out and meeting people face-to-face in their homes had been a good way to get people interested in their local council.

John Chant, on the other hand, has had eight stitches in his leg after a recent operation, so his campaign has been centred on newspaper and television advertising.

“I've been getting down to the pre-polling booths a little bit, not as much as I'd like,” he conceded.

Mr Chant hoped with his long and high-profile presence in Lismore, including 37 years in business and nine years on the council, most recently as deputy mayor, most people already knew who he was and what he was about.

“I've tried to put together a team with expertise in business and finance who would be responsible with a budget of $70-80 million,” he said.

Both Mr Chant and Ms Dowell said they expected a close result and a nervous night as votes were counted tonight.

Byron Shire

JAN BARHAM was calm the day before the big day.

The current mayor of Byron Shire is running again for the top job, along with six other candidates, and feels good about the way the campaign has gone.

“For four-and-a-half years I have been working hard. I always believe that with local government it is not a campaign that makes a difference, it's an ongoing assessment,” she said.

“I'm pleased with the information we have been able to get out to people about the achievements of this term of council, the work in progress and what the future holds in terms of a vision.

“Today I feel quite calm at the end of four-and-a-half years. I feel really proud of what we've done.”

Ms Barham, who heads The Greens ticket at the election, said the support of The Greens had been very important during the campaign, along with a core group of about 20 people.

Ross Tucker, who at the 2004 election came close to taking the top job, is also running for mayor, but as an independent in a group with others sharing similar philosophies.

Mr Tucker said his campaign had been a steady process with a focus on having a strong presence at the pre-polling booths at Mullumbimby and Byron Bay.

“We've been walking around the town and putting our faces out there and introducing ourselves to people,” he said.

And Mr Tucker said he expected the vote to again go down to the wire. “I think it's going to be a very, very, very tight competition.”

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