Clover Moore and Sydney are indivisible. Love her or loathe her, Clover is enmeshed with the fabric of this city. Much like the Waratah flower symbolises NSW, she’s virtually an emblem of Sydney.
Plenty of people love her. The fact that she’s never lost an election (despite being Member for Sydney since 1988 and Lord Mayor since 2004) attests to that.
But there are certainly those who loathe her, and the current local government election campaign has given them a platform to attack from. These attacks have come thick and fast; this is arguably the toughest election campaign Moore has ever faced.
“I’ve found the candidates’ forums incredibly unpleasant,” she concedes, meeting City News in a Stanley Street cafe.
“There has been a level of misinformation to the point of lies and personal abuse. I just feel this is not a part of the democratic process in our country and I think it’s terrible. The reason why I’m running again is I’m committed to the work. I find the work incredibly important and rewarding, and I find the politics evil.
“The work is what gets me through,” she insists, over the whir of the espresso machine.
That work has included a swag of new infrastructure projects for Sydney. Under Clover Moore, the City of Sydney has delivered new parks (Harmony Park, Paddington Reservoir Gardens and Pirrama Park among them), the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre, the Waterloo Youth Facility, the Glebe Foreshore Walk extension, the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, and upgrades of major thoroughfares including Darlinghurst Road, Glebe Point Road, Oxford Street and Redfern Street – all in conjunction with the usual ‘rates, roads and rubbish’ remit of local government.
It’s all been done by a Council that’s stayed in the black.
“We have a very good record of balanced budgets,” notes Moore. “We’re able to do all that we do because we run a tight ship financially.”
Yet the brickbats keep coming.
Liberal Party rivals Edward Mandla and Christine Forster have thrown around the word “nutty”. (“Distasteful denigration,” Moore replies.)
Denis Doherty from the Housing Action for Sydney party accuses her of inaction on social housing.
Angela Vithoulkas, Lord Mayoral candidate for the Living Sydney Party, accuses her of inaction on social housing and issues like policing in Kings Cross, liquor licenses and Redfern Railway Station.
“It’s really worried me that a lot of the candidates in this election don’t have much of an idea about the responsibilities of each tier of government,” counters Moore.
“The responsibility for policing is with State Government. We have a police force and we have a Police Minister.
“The City doesn’t deal with liquor licenses – we legally can’t – it’s the State Government’s Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, under Minister George Souris.
“Nor does the City run the railways – we can’t install lifts at Redfern Station and send State Government the bill. It’s just a nonsense.”
On social housing, she says: ‘The City wants to see the protection of and an increase in social housing, and as the Member for Sydney representing state issues, I’ve had a very long history supporting social housing – but ultimately responsibility rests with the State Government.”
Then there’s the cycleways. Not only is their very existence controversial, but critics complain they’re taking too long to roll out.
“I started [on the cycleways] about the same time as Mayor Bloomberg did in New York and he’s been faster because he has the powers that the Roads and Traffic Authority have here,” Moore explains. “To get their sign off takes much longer than I would like. And some projects take longer than I would like but I think we all take great pleasure in their completion.”
In short, Moore’s argument seems to be that her work as Lord Mayor has been beyond reproach, so her opponents sledge her on State Government issues, which the City can’t control.
Asked if she would do anything differently if she had her last term as Lord Mayor over again, she replies unequivocally: “No.”
Confidence or arrogance? That’s for the voters to decide.