Six Years of Leadership: A Reflection on Sally Capp’s Time as Melbourne Lord Mayor

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With her unmistakable presence felt across Melbourne for the past six years, Sally Capp has embodied a sense of zestful optimism as the city’s lord mayor. From colorful festival launches to innovative city cleaning campaigns, Capp has made her mark on the city, although not without encountering some controversies along the way.

During a TEDx talk in 2022, Capp expressed her belief that the Covid-19 pandemic had a positive impact on Melbourne, despite facing backlash from business owners who suffered during the extended lockdowns. Embracing the title of “pandemic mayor,” Capp reflects on the city’s resilience and growth during challenging times.

Melbourne’s first directly elected female mayor, Capp, at 56, has announced her departure in June after dedicating her entire 50s to public service. She will pass the baton to Nicholas Reece, the deputy lord mayor, who is anticipated to pursue the top position.

Throughout her tenure, Capp faced criticism from various quarters, particularly during the aftermath of the scandal-ridden resignation of her predecessor. Despite the challenges, Melbourne under her leadership has shown signs of recovery, with increased foot traffic and a revitalized cityscape.

As she prepares to transition out of office, Capp remains focused on the city’s ongoing revival efforts. While acknowledging the hurdles ahead, she is committed to supporting Melbourne’s businesses and communities in their path to recovery.

Capp being dressed in the mayoral robes after being sworn in as lord mayor in May 2018. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

Despite facing criticisms and controversies, Capp’s dedication to Melbourne’s progress remains unwavering. From her initiatives to boost weekend foot traffic to her advocacy for struggling businesses, she leaves behind a legacy of resilience and commitment to the city’s well-being.

As she prepares to embark on new endeavors outside of town hall, Capp’s impact on Melbourne’s landscape and community will be enduring, reflecting a chapter of transformation and growth under her leadership.

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Capp expresses pride in the long-lasting impact of her projects. Photo by Ellen Smith

Dealing with criticism has been one of the most challenging aspects of her role.

“It’s difficult to ignore. I won’t pretend it doesn’t sting. It does. But these are just surface wounds,” she reveals.

“A lot of the feedback I’ve received has been unfairly targeted at me based on my gender, often delving into personal attacks rather than focusing on the matters at hand.”

“The negative tone and gender bias in some of the comments have been unjust. What’s truly disheartening is that they draw attention away from the real issues.”

Reece, a former senior adviser to Julia Gillard, notes the parallels in the way both Gillard and Capp have been treated due to their gender.

“I have witnessed firsthand the unique challenges that women in high-ranking political positions encounter,” he remarks.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar challenges arise for Sally Capp.”

Upon announcing her resignation, Capp highlighted several significant projects as her enduring contributions – the Queen Victoria Market revitalization, the Greenline initiative, and Make Room, a transformation of a council property into housing and support for the homeless – all of which are still in progress. The timeline and funding for the $316 million Greenline, a proposed 4km stretch of interconnected parks along the Yarra River’s northern bank, are uncertain.

Despite this, Capp takes pride in leading initiatives that will have a lasting impact and are not merely short-term projects aimed at garnering political favor.

“Our decisions have been aimed at the city’s long-term benefit, even if they don’t result in a photo opportunity or ribbon-cutting ceremony,” she explains.

Her successor will inherit a substantial agenda that she describes as “extensive”.

How they navigate the ongoing projects will likely shape Capp’s legacy in the city.

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  1. What were some challenges Sally Capp faced in her role as Melbourne Lord Mayor?

    Dealing with criticism, especially of a personal and gendered nature, was one of the significant challenges Sally Capp faced in her role as Melbourne Lord Mayor.

  2. What projects did Sally Capp highlight as her legacy upon announcing her resignation?

    Sally Capp highlighted projects such as the Queen Victoria Market redevelopment, the Greenline project, and Make Room – a conversion of a council-owned building into homelessness accommodation and support services – as part of her legacy.

  3. What ongoing project’s completion date and funding remain uncertain?

    The $316 million Greenline project, which involves creating a 4km stretch of interconnected promenades and parks on the north bank of the Yarra River, has an uncertain completion date and funding status.

  4. What did Sally Capp emphasize about the projects she led during her tenure as Melbourne Lord Mayor?

    Sally Capp emphasized that the decisions made during her tenure were focused on long-term benefits for the city, rather than short-term initiatives for political gain.

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