Sartors Latin ebullience drives Sydneys quest for World-Class status
By Josephine Mckenna*
most surprising thing about Frank Sartor is his wicked sense of humor.
Sydneys colourful Lord Mayor clearly loves a chuckle, usually at
the expense of others.
Prime Minister in five years, president in ten. I want to skip
premier, its a waste of time, he says with a giggle.
He has tightened spending and cut staff numbers, generating a surplus of almost $50 million last financial year his eighth consecutive year in the black. He has increased his share of the vote at every election and last year became the longest serving mayor in the citys history.
The secret of his political success?
As vice-president of SOCOG, Cr Sartor added the role of statesman to his job description during the Olympics and rubbed shoulders with foreign dignitaries including the then Mayor of Rome and contender for the Italian Prime Ministership, Francesco Rutelli.
I am obviously sad to see Rutelli lose the last election because I think the Ulivo Centre-Left had governed Italy well and Rutelli would have made a contribution. It also concerns me the degree to which Berlusconi has conflicts of interest. I suppose the overall hope is for electoral stability over the next few years.
The Lord Mayors own political success is a triumph for the son
of poor Italian immigrants who began his life in the Riverina region of
New South Wales. He readily admits his childhood left him with a fear
of failure and a drive to succeed.
Sartors father, Cesare, came from Treviso and his mother, Ida, from Padova. They arrived in Australia with their first four children soon after World War II. Cesare leased a vegetable garden and later bought a small farm. Francesco was the first child in the family to be born here, and another three children followed.
If I was with the older brothers I got biffed, if I was with the
younger ones and they started crying, I got blamed. I was either getting
biffed or getting blamed. I could never win really.
Initially coy in our interview about local discrimination against the
Italian community, Sartor later concedes it was difficult coming from
an ethnic background in rural Australia in the 1950s.
Sartor changed his name to Frank to become a little more Australian but that wasnt enough to protect him from labels like Cassata Bar that dogged him during his school years.
I remember my older brother running down the road to our house chased by a group of local kids who were yelling wog and pelting him with stones, Sartor told an interviewer.
By the time he got to the front gate, my mother had the broom ready
and whacked them hard till they ran away.
Sartor went from the local Catholic primary school, where he accumulated
holy pictures for his academic performance, to Griffith High School where
he won a Commonwealth Scholarship to Sydney University to study chemical
engineering. Meanwhile he was struggling to come to terms with the death
of his mother and concerned about his younger brothers and sisters who
were sent to boarding school.
Sartors political ambitions emerged in the early 1980s. He became
involved in a Newtown residents group that was fighting the construction
of a multi-storey apartment complex. In 1983, he became director of the
NSW Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.
When the council was sacked in 1987 he lost to his Labor rival, Sandra
Nori. Unwilling to accept defeat, Sartor campaigned as an Independent
for the new council in 1989 and was re-elected.
The perennial outsider who had chipped away at the power blocs that controlled
the city for more than a decade had finally made it. The taste of victory
was sweet and his vision was clear.
According to figures released by the Town Hall, the citys residential population has more than trebled since Sartor took office. Private and public sector development has topped $8 billion and the citys parks, streets and footpaths have been given a new look. Sartor is particularly proud of the refurbishment of historic treasures such as Customs House, the Capitol Theatre and the Sydney GPO, the heritage landmark in Martin Place restored by the Grollo familys construction company Grocon. He is no less proud of new community facilities, such as the Cook & Phillip Recreation Centre.
He wants to be remembered for promoting cultural change, bringing people
back into a revitalised and cleaner city.
While political opponents like Councillor Kathryn Greiner, wife of the
former NSW premier, applaud his economic management and ambition, she
says Sartor has no interest in consensus.
less than two years left in his term, there could be more to come. Sartor
still has plenty left on his list of things to do. Controversial proposals
for council reform and conflict over new city developments are certainly
in need of some compromise.
It has to be a joke, says Scott Robertson from the NSW Art
Deco Society. They are totally inappropriate, appalling designs.
The community is very divided and that makes it very difficult, he says, before breaking into song. Whatever will be, will be. Que sera, sera. The future is not ours to see
The Lord Mayors vision for Sydney also includes a bigger slice
for the city. As the Government looks at the prickly issue of council
amalgamations, Cr Sartor has outlined plans to take over parts of Woollahra,
Leichhardt, Marrickville and South Sydney.
I promised them I would stop 500 miles this side of Moscow what more could they want? he scoffs. All these bloody little tinpot chieftains hanging onto their little patch and their robes and chains. They go to bed with them at night.
Of course an article about a man named Sartor (sarto means tailor in Italian) would not be complete without a word on his clothing. He wears Zegna Not to make an impression, but because it fits.
* Josephine McKenna is a Sydney-based freelance journalist
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