Damien Ryan rejects branding as a ‘Labor man’
By KIERAN FINNANE
Many might think that the four challengers to Mayor Damien Ryan have entered into a strategic alliance to oust him. Not so, says Steve Brown, going so far as to criticise the capabilities of his main rival in the conservative camp, Alderman Eli Melky.
Ald Melky refrains from doing the same, even copping on the chin Mr Brown’s criticism of his being “green” (in the sense of young and inexperienced) and “muddled”. But Ald Melky says Mr Brown and Dave Douglas, neither of whom have served on council, will face the same challenges as he did 12 months ago, when he was elected following a by-election. His advantage over them now is that he understands council processes, including what goes on “behind closed doors”: “I entered a new and hostile environment, there were many things to learn. I’ve certainly improved,” he says.
“Having a mayor with no experience on council is not what Alice Springs needs. And as little as I have, it’s more than they have.”
He says Mr Brown and Mr Douglas have not really tried to familiarise themselves with council business, in contrast to his own efforts over three years before he stood for election, when he was often a visitor in the public gallery of the council chamber.
“The town knows what I stand for, they know how hard I try. I’m younger, fresher and I’ve got positive energy.”
Mr Brown says “political experience” as well as experience of the town and its issues are what counts and that there’s “no comparison” between him and Ald Melky.
“I know the issues and understand the town and its politics intimately. Eli Melky gets himself muddled and confused. He sees himself as on my side of politics, he listens to what I say and says the same things himself but he doesn’t know how I’ve arrived at my decisions, so he gets mixed up. His heart is in the right place but he doesn’t know how to put up a good argument.
“If he sticks around for a few more years he’ll become a good candidate.”
If it were to come down to years on council, Samih Habib Bitar would have it all over any of them, with his 12 years as alderman behind him.
Habib Bitar has ‘no plan’, says Melky
But “he hasn’t got a plan,” says Ald Melky, even as he declares appreciation of their friendship.
“He’s relying on that 12 years and the law and order issue.
“But he’s also making a point of his dissatisfaction with the mayor.”
Mr Brown characterises Ald Habib Bitar’s candidacy as “a protest” but suggests that he’s not good at selling himself, which may come down to “a communication difficulty”.
He does he distinguish himself from Dave Douglas? He too was very active in the lobby group, Action for Alice, and indeed was their pre-selected candidate for mayor in the last election before changing his mind.
“I’m stronger, tougher and harder,” says Mr Brown.
But if Mr Douglas were elected, “I’ll be happy – we can work with him, he’s got a different manner, that’s all.”
He is disappointed that another leading Action for Alice figure, candidate for councillor Geoff Booth, is backing Ald Melky for mayor. He says Mr Booth suffers the same drawback as Ald Melky, as a relatively recent arrival in town: “He likes Eli Melky’s politics. He doesn’t know that they have their origin in me. If he’d thought about Action for Alice, about who got things done, he would have realised that it was me, before Eli Melky came in and tried to manipulate things.”
Some might see Mr Brown as too aggressive and Ald Melky as more moderate at least in manner, I put to him.
“I’m not aggressive, I’m strong. Eli Melky is a loose canon.”
Mr Brown is quite confident of getting the “thinking” person’s vote from the conservative to middle ground. Ald Melky will get the vote from people who respond to “marketing”, he says – “he’s a salesman, he’s good at that”.
Nonetheless, Mr Brown will be happy to see both Mr Booth and Ald Melky on the new council and stresses the united desire of the four to tip Mayor Ryan out, even if there was no advance planning between them on how to do that.
He recognises that cross-preferencing amongst the four challengers will have a strategic effect. If electors follow their how-to-vote cards and put Mayor Ryan last, unless he gains an outright majority of first preference votes, he could be in trouble.
Once Mayor Ryan would have been seen as a conservative, says Mr Brown, but now he’s clearly “Labor’s man” and has lost the support of many who would have voted for him last time.
Mr Brown says Mayor Ryan’s how-to-vote cards are being handed out at pre-polling by Vince Jeisman, candidate for councillor and a figure strongly associated with Labor, both as a party member and as MHR Warren Snowdon’s electorate officer. (In an interview with the Alice Springs News Online, Mr Jeisman makes no bones about his “strong support” for Mayor Ryan.)
He also mentions “letters to the paper” about the campaign from figures employed by the government, including a “department head”: “Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have been allowed.”
He contends that the Labor Government has boosted Mayor Ryan’s campaign by responding “in five minutes” to his recent request for more police to deal with the recent spike in violent and other crime.
Wasn’t that a good thing for the town?
No, says Mr Brown, this stop / start approach to policing is a “bloody disaster”.
He also says Mayor Ryan has “used his role mercilessly to self-promote over the last month”.
Ald Melky too is critical of Labor is “openly promoting” Damien Ryan, as are The Greens. He criticises the party-political affiliations of some candidates, raising the spectre of them running for office in the NT election and so causing a by-election, “abhorrent” for the town.
Conservative voters are “disenchanted” with Mayor Ryan, he says, with the way he has “gone to the left and done a deal to be re-elected”.
Mayor Ryan scoffs at all this. He says, apart from Mr Jeisman, Ald Brendan Heenan, as well as candidates Chansey Paech and Dianne Logan have all also handed out his how-to-vote cards, as has Kel Davies, husband of Ald Liz Martin.
Ryan suggested preference swap deal with Brown
He said he approached Steve Brown after the ballot was announced, to do a preference swap deal but it was “rudely rejected”. His how-to-vote reads one to five straight down the ballot paper. Luck of the draw put him at the top and Mr Brown in number two position.
Mr Brown, in a comment on this article (below) says his rejection was “not rude, just definite”.
He says that in a lengthy question and answer session with all five mayoral candidates on CAAMA radio, Mr Brown could only talk about law and order.”This is a very important election,” says Mayor Ryan. “There is a group of people who are determined to take over but they haven’t given voters an ‘all of community’ vision.”
He agrees “whole heartedly” about its importance for the town but “Stevie does not seem to comprehend that he won’t get to run the police force”.
He defines his relationship with the NT Labor Government as “working diligently to get I can for the town”.
“That doesn’t make me a Labor man. I’m not accountable to them.”
Nonetheless he wants to work with the Australian and NT Governments, at present both Labor, and can’t see how Mr Brown thinks he could do the job without doing the same.
Ald Melky accuses Mayor Ryan of blocking his initiatives without coming up with solutions, naming three in particular – his attempt to have a youth curfew; to raise revenue for council by selling off some parkland; and to have the ‘removal of graffiti’ by-law rescinded.
Mayor Ryan says Ald Melky does not do adequate homework for his motions. He says Ald Melky has never once availed himself of the opportunity to work with the Director of Finance, before coming into council with “an hysterical motion”.
With the NT Government and the Opposition both against a youth curfew, where was the money going to come from for an appropriate facility, he asks. Likewise, where was the money going to come from to remove graffiti throughout the town, if individual property owners were not required to do their bit.
Ald Melky doesn’t do “the serious work”, he just comes up with “wonderful media grabs”. He ‘s also prone to change his position as the wind changes direction, says Mayor Ryan, “he’s a net fisherman looking for votes” in contrast to Steve Brown with whom at least “you can see what he wants”.
Is he worried about the way cross-preferencing from his challengers could play out for him?
“I can’t do anything about that. It will be a decision of the community. It’s important that they think, when they cast their votes, that they need to return a mayor and eight councillors who can work for the whole town.”
Mayor's challengers take shots at one another
Damien Ryan rejects branding as a ‘Labor man’