A familiar face is on the comeback trail as the Labor Party seek to bolster their presence in local government in Ballarat.
Geoff Howard, who served as a state MP for 19 years in Ballarat East (later Buninyong) before his retirement in 2018, has confirmed he will stand in the local elections in October this year.
He is the most prominent of the new candidates, who launched their campaign on Sturt Street on Wednesday morning with the official approval of the local Labor Party branch.
It is the first time the ALP has endorsed candidates at local government level in what the party hopes will be a major shift in the dynamics of the elected Ballarat City council.
There will, however, be no rematch of Mr Howard's previous clashes with the current mayor Cr Ben Taylor, who Mr Howard defeated twice in state elections in 2010 and 2014.
Instead of doing battle in South Ward, which Cr Taylor represents, Mr Howard will contest the already highly competitive Ballarat Central ward. There the present batch of councillors includes two former mayors - Mark Harris and Samantha McIntosh - and current deputy mayor Cr Belinda Coates.
As well as his time in state parliament, Mr Howard is already familiar with town hall, having served served three terms for the old Eureka Ward, including a year as mayor just prior to the amalgamation of councils.
The former mayor and the current mayor have had a few 'barnies' you might say in recent times and that hasn't helped the cohesion of councilGeoff Howard, ALP candidate for Ballarat Central
He was also a councillor during current CEO Janet Dore's first stint at the helm of the organisation.
In a biography released to media, Mr Howard said he decided to stand in the October elections because he is "concerned by several aspects of the governance of the City Council."
Speaking to The Courier on Wednesday, Mr Howard said he had a "lot of confidence in Janet Dore in addressing those [governance] issues", but had concerns over the council's approach to planning.
He also said the current council "hadn't worked very cohesively, particularly among the Liberal councillors."
"The former mayor and the current mayor have had a few 'barnies' you might say in recent times and that hasn't helped the cohesion of council".
Mr Howard said he had no mayoral ambitions and that running for council again had not crossed his mind until the past few months.
We openly declare our political colours and allegiance. We challenge others to do the sameCr Des Hudson
"There are a number of issues - not only COVID but management issues - which means we need some experience on council," he said. "I still like talking to people, listening to people, acting and advocating on their behalf."
Mr Howard will join five other candidates - a total of two for each of Ballarat's three municipal wards - as the campaign.
As well as the two Labor Party members who already serve on this council - Daniel Moloney and Des Hudson - the most widely known of the other crop of candidates is Professor Bridget Aitchison, who is the campus dean for Ballarat at Australian Catholic University.
At the launch, Cr Des Hudson said of the decision to endorse candidates: "We see this as a new exciting opportunity.
"The reason for it is we want to open and transparent with the voters from the very start. We want people to know what our backgrounds are and what we stand for."
"We openly declare our political colours and allegiance. We challenge others to do the same."
Prof Aitchison, who chairs the Committee for Ballarat Liveability Project Team, told The Courier she felt it was the right time to "contribute in a more tangible way."
She said council needed an overhaul, and wanted to see "genuine consultation and a lot more transparency than we have had".
Read The Courier's previous profile of Bridget Aitchison here:ACU Ballarat dean's journey from Hollywood to regional Victoria
Kumuda Simpson is a former politics and international relations university lecturer, and currently works as a senior policy adviser in natural resources management. She will contest the Ballarat Central ward alongside Mr Howard. Meanwhile union organiser Jay Morrison will join Cr Moloney campaigning in the North Ward.
The ALP is endorsing candidates in some - but by no means all - municipalities across the state this year in a major break with tradition.
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It is widely seen as part of a strategy to reclaim grassroots territory, particularly that lost to the Victorian Greens in recent years.
The tactics are varying across the state, with the official endorsement of candidates left up to local branches.
The decision to endorse candidates in Ballarat was taken last year and was "hotly contested" according to one observer.
In a press release announcing the Wednesday launch, a spokesperson said the candidates would not be obliged to vote on party lines.
"While we are proudly standing under a Labor banner, our votes as elected candidates will not be bound when it comes to day-to-day council matters."
The Courier understands the only time candidates will need to agree voting tactics will be for the mayoral and deputy mayoral caucus held each year.
The Labor Party statement said: "For too long Ballarat ratepayers have been denied transparency regarding the political affiliations of their councillors and council candidates."
Previous local council candidates have not always declared political allegiances, or have declared them very late or even joined parties after their election as with councillor Amy Johnson in 2012.
The Liberal Party does not endorse candidates, while the Victorian Greens party has done so for at least the past three local elections in Ballarat.
The Victoria Greens has also published their candidates for Ballarat this year, which include Cr Coates, local entrepreneur Ellen Burns, and winemaker Jackson Snep.
The election will be held by postal ballot on October 24 this year.
The Labor candidates in full are:
Bridget Aitchison - South Ward
Des Hudson - South Ward
Geoff Howard - Central Ward
Kumuda Simpson - Central Ward
Daniel Moloney - North Ward
Jay Morrison - North Ward
More Ballarat council elections coverage
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