HOPEFUL FOR CHANGE: Rival candidates wish Vic Pennisi luck as he becomes mayor of the Southern Downs.
HOPEFUL FOR CHANGE: Rival candidates wish Vic Pennisi luck as he becomes mayor of the Southern Downs.

CANDIDATES REACT: Pennisi takes a different path

THE people of the Southern Downs have spoken, electing new mayor Vic Pennisi.

The Queensland Electoral Commission made the declaration Monday night after Mr Pennisi secured 44.28 per cent of the official first preference count.

Former mayor Tracy Dobie came in second position with 36.42 per cent of the vote, followed by Peter Kemp (14.37 per cent) and Joe Doepel (4.93 per cent).

Never in his "wildest dreams" did the mayor-elect imagine he would receive such overwhelming support from the community.

"I feel very humbled by it all," Mr Pennisi said.

"I will be a mayor with some empathy. A mayor who cares about the community. A mayor who puts people first."

The message resonated with the drought-stricken, disillusioned community who called for change at the election day polls.

"We lost their trust," Mr Pennisi said.

"For some time now there's been a push to disconnect councillors from the community and that was, dare I say, the wrong thing to do.

"Once you disconnect from the community that creates intrigue. That level of intrigue breeds and breeds and eventually turns into anger, then anger into the hatred we've seen."

The mayor-elect said rebuilding the trust would be paramount to a successful term in office.

"It means everything," he said.

"It's like having a marriage and you don't trust your partner. I've been married to my wife for 41 years and that is built on trust. I have a great relationship with my kids that is built on trust. And I will have a relationship with the community built on trust.

"That's how we will win."

On the flip side of the coin, Allora hopeful Joe Doepel partially blamed the pandemic for his loss.

The little-known boilermaker said the influx of new social distancing restrictions prevented him from sharing his vision for the region.

"The virus made the race a lot harder," Mr Doepel said.

"We couldn't get around to meeting everyone because all the meetings got canned towards the finish.

"I think if they'd gone ahead, it would have helped the numbers."

Third-running mayoral candidate Peter Kemp said while the coronavirus undoubtedly had an impact on his campaign, it probably wasn't enough to affect the outcome.

"Vic is an experienced politician, he's been doing it for a long time and he had a name out there," Mr Kemp said.

"Both he and Tracy (Dobie) ran fairly big, substantial campaigns and I didn't really do that.

"But I offered an alternative, and you never know how the electorate is thinking until the votes are counted."

Despite their losses, both Mr Kemp and Mr Doepel extended their congratulations to the mayor-elect and wished him well.

"Everyone needs to get behind him," Mr Doepel said.

Mr Kemp said he was hopeful that his rival would bring positive change to the region, which for the last four years was "in a twilight zone".

"I think we'll see a more responsible sort of local government," he said.

"I expect to see a more user-friendly council."

The full list of councillors is yet to be declared, but Mr Pennisi is confident he will be able to form a constructive council with the frontrunners.

"It looks like it's going to be a very good council, we have got some really quality people that are going to sit around that table," he said.

"I can guarantee you this council will go down a different pathway."

Mr Pennisi's first point of call will be to tackle the challenges of the coronavirus crisis.

"Big decisions don't daunt me, " he said.


The Daily News reached out to Tracy Dobie for comment but no response was received in time for print.