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Challenger turns frontrunner in Lord Mayoral race

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The city councillor endorsed by outgoing Lord Mayor Martin Haese as his replacement was planning to challenge him for the top job until he sensationally quit yesterday.

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Last Thursday, Deputy Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor told InDaily she might not contest the upcoming city council elections due to a big project she was hoping to land in her working life beyond the council.

On Friday, if not before, she had decided to challenge Haese for the top job.

On Sunday, Haese abandoned his campaign for re-election and endorsed Verschoor.

Today, she is a frontrunner for Lord Mayor, with nominations due to close tomorrow.

Verschoor, an experienced arts administrator who was general manager in charge of the “vibrant city” agenda under Stephen Yarwood’s Lord Mayorship, insists she only learned about Haese’s decision to quit for “personal reasons” over a cup of coffee with the Lord Mayor yesterday.

By last night, the councillor first elected in a by-election in 2015 and her husband – who has a background in graphic design – were starting to work on her campaign posters.

“That’s how prepared I was for this,” she said.

Meanwhile, Haese last week printed 25,000 campaign brochures – the now useless boxes a tangible sign, he says, of the genuine suddenness of his decision to quit yesterday.

The question now is whether the loss of the incumbent – who was widely tipped to gain re-election – will encourage new Lord Mayoral candidates to come forward.

Equally intriguing is the fate of so-called “Team Adelaide” – a grouping of candidates who were personally endorsed by Martin Haese.

Since Verschoor’s announcement yesterday, several members of the group – including Quentin Kenihan and Rick Carter – have come out in her favour.

Verschoor says she will attempt to meet all candidates over the coming weeks, but she has not yet decided whether to run a preference ticket.

Veteran councillor Anne Moran says she now expects some late surprises in nominations for council.

“This has thrown all the cards in the air,” she said. “A lot of people other than Sandy will be thinking about whether they will run for Lord Mayor.

“This is a perfect line-up of the planets for a dark horse to come in.”

On Haese’s candidate grouping, Moran said she wondered what its fate would now be, considering it had lost its “visionary”.

Verschoor told InDaily today that she had decided to challenge Haese, despite her view that the council had been running well.

“My stomach has been doing flip-flops over the past few days because I wasn’t enjoying the prospect of running against Martin,” she said.

When asked why she had been prepared to challenge him, she said she had a different style to Haese and felt that much of his focus had been on infrastructure development.

While she supported initiatives such as ultra-fast broadband, “I think we need to focus on other things – I think I can take things forward in a slightly different way.”.

In particular, she was passionate about making the city an exciting place to which young South Australians would be prepared to return after moving interstate.

Haese said he had an inclination before Sunday that Verschoor might be considering running.

“Sandy had no idea whatsoever that I had been contemplating my own future,” he said, adding that his decision to quit had left Verschoor “thunderstruck” when he told her.

“I made the decision, quite genuinely, on Sunday morning,” he said. “I am genuinely doing this for personal and family reasons.”

Haese said that while he had been approached by political parties about joining their ranks during his time as Lord Mayor, he had no plans on his “immediate horizon” to enter politics.

Moran said she would be comfortable working with either Verschoor or Hamilton as Lord Mayor.

“I really like Sandy,” she said. “I’ve known her for a long time – she’s very capable.

“At the same time, I like Mark too. I can relax – either lord mayor candidate I can work with. They’re both good people.”

Haese said he would see out his role until the local government election period ends in November.

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