A POLITICAL spat has broken out in Cockburn’s east ward by-election, with a candidate saying deputy mayor Lee-Anne Smith is meddling with his campaign to ensure her preferred Labor-aligned candidate wins.
Long-term Labor supporter Tony Toledo this week released awkward personal texts from Ms Smith which urge him to consider withdrawing from the race, and to sabotage an online forum organised by councillor Chamonix Terblanche, who’s close to right-leaning candidate Lara Kirkwood.
Ms Smith’s March 29 text warns Mr Toledo that his candidacy threatens the chances of fellow Labor member Tarun Dewan by splitting their vote.
“Tony I know you have good intentions however I strongly believe your nomination will only benefit Lara,” Cr Smith wrote.
“Tarun ran in the last election and he is slowly gaining traction—he has a really good chance, has a good campaign with solid petitions and community support for them.
“A split vote will only visit Lara. Would you consider pulling out?”
Mr Toledo told the Herald he’s stuck in the middle of a “political tug of war”.
“She’s actively campaigning against me,” he says.
“I think her position is politically motivated. I think they’re a select group of people that want Tarun to win.”
In another text from March 30, Cr Smith seeks to derail Cr Terblanche’s Q&A forum.
“It would be great if you all sabotaged them and said no. I know Ian’s not going. I could ask Tarun not to go if you don’t,” Cr Smith said.
“One thing we do agree on is not wanting to support Chamonix and Lara.”
But Cr Smith says the horse trading is “standard practice at all levels of government in the lead-up to any election”.
She says she was approached by another councillor before last year’s council elections asking her to withdraw from the mayoral race because of vote-splitting.
“Yesterday I spoke to two of my peers in other metropolitan council who laughed off the incident, reaffirming similar experiences,” she said.
“This is the first year out of my 10 on council I have approached anyone and I feel this has been totally blown out of proportion.”
She says backing Mr Dewan was a “no-brainer”.
“Tarun is one of the hardest working men I have ever met, married for 30 years with a beautiful grown up family. A semi-retired engineer with an MBA, competent, credible and above all great ethics.
“Who wouldn’t want a long term resident of Cockburn like Tarun on their team?”
Ms Kirkwood says that she also received some unwanted online “hassling” from the deputy mayor before last year’s elections over whether she was going to run.
“I ended up having to block Lee-Anne Smith because of her constant harassment of me.
“In the end I just said; ‘Look I’m not dealing with you via social media anymore, if you have any questions they need to be via email and they need to be related to council.’
“The WA Electoral Commission needs to bring in a policy that stop this nasty behaviour through social media,” she says, referring to messages from councillors to candidates, as well as “any other bullying to candidates with regards to elections”.
Cr Smith says it’s unfair to make any link between her private messages and cyber-bullying, saying she copped the latter during the election and it was “something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy”.
by ALICE ANGELONI