The battle for control of Newcastle council is on in earnest after the Newcastle Independents announced on Sunday that former NBN news anchor John Church would run for lord mayor.
Councillor Church wasted no time in questioning the Labor-controlled council's spending priorities and rate rises over the past four years and its record on community consultation.
"We've had a party focused on ideology rather than on listening to the community, and on many matters they've caused divisions in the community," he said.
"What they've done is adopted positions and defended them, rather than amending them.
"Relying on one party to represent the entire community has failed us. We think it's time for change."
Labor fired back on Sunday afternoon, labelling the Independents team "Liberals in disguise".
"The gene pool of the Newcastle 'Independents' is indeed shallow," the seven Labor councillors said in a statement. This is the same tired line-up of failed Liberals masquerading as 'Independents' that Newcastle has repeatedly rejected."
Cr Church ran for the Liberals in the federal electorate of Shortland in 2013, achieving a 5.6 per cent swing without unseating Labor's Jill Hall. He left the party to contest the 2017 council election as an independent.
He described himself as "definitely the underdog" against incumbent Nuatali Nelmes in the mayoral vote.
Fellow Independent Kath Elliott trailed Cr Nelmes by almost 20,000 votes in the 2017 mayoral election, but Cr Church could have more name recognition, a common challenge in local government politics.
"We need a lot of people to vote differently this time around than they did in 2017 for me to have a chance," Cr Church said.
"People need to think if they want more of the same. If they do, vote Labor."
He said he expected Labor and the Greens to have a preference deal in place.
Asked if the Independents would swap preferences with the Liberals, he said: "That's way above my pay grade. There's been no discussions. We don't even know if the Liberals are running a campaign."
Cr Church will also lead the Independents' Ward 1 ticket, which includes former deputy lord mayor Scott Sharpe.
I think we need to bring people into the fold, not marginalise them.John Church
Cr Elliott and Cr Allan Robinson will contest wards two and four respectively for the Independents. Former police prosecutor Dave Wild will replace retiring councillor Andrea Rufo atop the Independents' Ward 3 ticket.
Labor hopes to hang on to its majority in the chamber by retaining two representatives in both Ward 3 and Ward 4 as well as its councillors in the other two wards.
Cr Church said the existing council had put "so many community groups offside".
"The east end residents, the people involved with the maritime museum, the former business improvement associations, the [sports ground] committees," he said. "I think we need to bring people into the fold, not marginalise them."
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The "most troubling issue" of the council term was the "massive cost overrun" on fitting out the council's new offices in Stewart Avenue.
"We were promised a fit-out of $7 million on a building we'll never own.
"We know $17.6 million of ratepayers' funds was spent on that building."
He said residents would rather see rates spent on roads, footpaths, sports grounds and more facilities in the city's west.
Cr Church described himself as "fiscally conservative but socially progressive".
"I believe we need to take our surpluses through good financial management and use that to help the more vulnerable and needy in our community," he said.
He said Supercars, another divisive issue, was great for tourism but was in the "wrong place".
"The problem was when we diverted that into the historic east end, and here we have residents who have concrete barriers outside their house, they're in lockdown for weeks and months.
"The way they've been treated is cruel and harsh, and I think we need to find an alternative."
He said some major projects, including the Bathers Way coastal path and the council's cooperation with the NSW government on urban renewal, had been well received.
"Yes, it's been an exciting time, and there's more great projects ahead, but there have been projects where the residents have not been involved, they've been disengaged and disenfranchised.
"The skate bowl on South Newcastle beach is a classic example where the community said we don't really want a skate bowl and the council pushed ahead with it anyway."
The Newcastle Herald reported on Monday that Labor had reshuffled its line-up for the September 4 council election.