Topic: local news
Some historical 'clarifications' are needed of the Ben Lee cover story in the Good Weekend supplement to the Sydney Morning Herald today regarding his political father Norman Lee. It doesn't behove well to speak ill of the dead especially given one's own alcoholic father was just buried yesterday in Melbourne. But the true nature of Norman Lee the local council politician should be recorded. The truth - not rose tinted. This might also help his son Ben Lee unscramble a bit.
Here's our campaign photo, skinny and hairy, in 1995 with Rosie (medical student) and Lexy (actor) on the successful ticket with about 15 others competing for the last councilor position in Bondi Ward behind Labor and Liberal.
This writer sat 2 seats from Norman Lee for 4 years 1995 to 1999, Cr Peter Moscat (ALP) thankfully between us. That was every Tuesday evening till late and one Saturday a month for 4 years. You knew these people like family members loved or not. Lee was the most loathsome of the 12 councilors plus senior staff around the chamber, not least because of his skills at niggling and undermining of a personal not policy nature. He was an independent for the Dover Heights, Rose Bay, Vaucluse end of Waverley Council. His constituency was in particular the Jewish vote up there.
No problem with that, a significant demographic with an inherent need for democratic cultural representation. He was for most of the next 4 years always an independent aligned personally to Armitage as Mayor for 2 of those years. Apparently he had been booted out of the ALP caucus peviously as unmanageable.
Contrary to the sanitised version in the press today possibly sourced to then mayor Barbara Armitage via journo John Huxley, Norman was an aggressive prick and this was well understood by most councilors.
His clashes with youthful fellow Jewish councilor George Newhouse (in the ALP proper) were often and at times serious. At one point we intervened Gandhi style to prevent a sincere threat of defamation proceedings by Newhouse on Lee over the latter's rumour mongering in their common social networks. This would have infected the reputation of the council and increase friction at meetings already demanding enough. This was not normal politiking, ALP to Liberal or my own Green Party at that time. Lee was a brute and a dinosaur.
From the very first in 1995 Lee took a set against this writer possibly for being a bright eyed idealistic successful Green Party councilor. In reality on many discretionary decisions outside party platforms councilors could chop and change to make shifting and creative alliances. But Lee always spoke against and voted against the Green position if at all possible. It became cliche for to speak in opposition to us far more than any Labor or Liberal councilor cared to or needed to. Indeed he was instrumental in attempting to orchestrate a referral of this writer to the Dept of Local Govt to have us expelled from council for campaigning against the Waterloo Incinerator. Just another example of political bullying.
Some, but by no means all of this conflict with Lee might be explained as normal policy clashes over closure of that facility spewing dioxins. Lee and the ALP under Armitage but not so much now MP, then Cr, Paul Pearce wanted to rebuild it, not closure. It was the closure decision in 1997 by the NSW State Government that saw Paul Pearce take over Armitage's role as leader of the ALP group, the mayoralty and fast track to Ernie Page's seat in Parliament.
Fact is Norman Lee was a nasty little man at Waverley Council 95-99. We always put his abrasiveness down to our position being one of true independence, as an honest broker between the two major parties in a well to do part of the city. By contrast Lee was independent in name only as the crucial last vote keeping Barbara Armitage in power. Never was a mayor more happy than to see Norman return after a serious heart attack late 1997 or so.
True Lee senior was always associated with Norman Andrews House charity for the homeless, and his turf was chair of the Traffic Committee which he did competently. But these were the exception not the rule. More generally he was a brawler and contrarian on his last legs.
A change in tone eventually transpried when he linked arms at a Port Botany picket line against the Patricks Howard Govt takeover of industrial relations. Norman was heard to call the federal Government "fascist" in the council chamber which was surprising given his constant negative attitude to the Greens. He was re admitted to membership of the ALP in his last years of life, possibly on the strength of this renewed loyalty.
Lee made it easier in the end for the Green Party to make a decision to sell off vacant public land for house blocks in Dover Heights - Norman's turf - in order to transfer the income for construction of the new Waverley Library in Bondi Junction. Norman wanted them to be tennis courts to promote outdoor sports, which meant in effect no library. And intrusive floodlights and noisy balls going bop, bop, bop all day or night in a built up area. Ironic therefore to see his name and ours on the same plaque (below). A travesty really of history albeit good unity politics by the Labor machine.
It's true Norman Lee was proud of his son Ben, explaining how he played music from the youngest age at BeeBees bar and lounge when it was on Curlewis St Bondi , now a phone shop if memory serves. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker when a kid has the boogie woogie in him it has to come out.
True Lee senior was entertaining at times, recalling the Liberal Mayor of the 1980ies at a Red Cross charity dinner going from table to table at the end of the function and finishing every leftover half glass of wine. He was an alcoholic and said to be a Force of Darkness for the developer lobby. This was the time of ICAC corruption finding against then director of planning Don Stait pursued to the end by Armitage and Lee providing the muscle for her protection.
For these achievements of throwing out the spiv white shoe brigade at Waverley in the 1980ies when it counted the community can and should be grateful but the vicious grip on power afterwards late 90ies was unhealthy. In 1999 the Green Councilor numbers tripled from 1 to 3, though this writer stepped down for other interests. Richard Davidson as leader of the Liberal Group including now Mayor Sally Betts told us in 1999 if only we had stayed "you would have been mayor" with 3 Green and Liberal votes. A position he of course really aspired to. Ah yes Richard, but then possibly only to end up like Norman Lee.
And how pray tell would that help save the forests?