By Melody Teh
Leichhardt Council’s Balmain Ward by-election will be held this Saturday (August 2). Four candidates are looking to win the seat including Liberal candidate Michael Manikas, Labor candidate Aaron Di Pietro, Green’s Derek Bolton and Independent John Stamolis.
The by-election was called to fill the seat of Liberal Councillor Melinda Manikas who passed away earlier this year.
With the current Council having been equally represented by four councillors each from the Greens, Labor, and Liberal, the outcome of the upcoming by-election could potentially change the dynamics in council.
Liberal Councillor John Jobling believes the balance should be maintained.
“In the last election, the electors voted to have a certain mixture and I think, at least for the rest of this term of the campaign, we should maintain that balance,” he said.
Greens Councillor Craig Channells said while the by-election will have some effect, it is important not to overstate it.
“Even if a Green was elected, there still isn’t a big majority…just the mathematics of that, no party will have a clear majority still.”
Labor Councillor Simon Emsley said the “most significant thing about it is an additional councillor will be able to represent that area. Whoever it is, I think that will be a positive thing.”
Councillor Manikas’ husband, Michael Manikas, is running to fill the position his wife held on council. Mr Manikas said he’d always wanted to run, but the timing had been wrong.
“This is not something I’m just doing for my wife’s legacy, but it is something I’m doing out of respect for my wife to try and continue the work she didn’t get a chance to do,” he said.
With a background in cost control and management, Mr Manikas said: “I want to ensure the spending in Council is brought under control and not spent on reckless projects. We focus on the core issues that everyone is concerned about which is the essential stuff like roads, footpaths and parks”.
As the youngest candidate at 29, Labor’s Aaron Di Pietro believes he can bring a fresh perspective and a new level of energy from a different generation to the council.
The dwindling vibrancy of Balmain’s Darling Street is one of the main reasons Mr Di Pietro put his hand up for election.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people that feel the shops they need to go to as part of their daily life aren’t on Darling Street anymore,” he said. “It would be good for council to try and engage with locals to get a better idea of what they would like to see and give them a bit more of a reason to take some pride in the local shopping area.”
Green’s candidate Derek Bolton said he’s fighting to ensure council is open, transparent and accountable.
He has been worried with some of council’s decisions that stymie resident’s voices and community consultation.
“Labor and Liberal councillors have made a move to take the development approvals out of open council and put them into closed doors of a panel of experts. That’s the sort of thing that really concerns me, this sort of gradual removal of power from the citizens,” he said.
John Stamolis, who was an Independent councillor from 2008-2012, is running to bring a community voice back to the Council.
He said the make up of the council, comprised entirely of political parties, is “completely unhealthy and is fundamentally wrong at the local level”.
He believes local council needs local community voices, not political ones.
“The average member in our community is just as smart as anybody on a political party and we can contribute very strongly to outcomes for the people,” he said.