Carmelo Pesce found out only an hour before last night's Sutherland Shire mayoral vote he was about to lose the job he has embraced with a passion for the last five years.
Up till that point, the Liberal councillor believed he had the vote of independent Steve Simpson in a re-run of their arrangement at the previous mayoral election two years earlier.
But, when the two men met in the council chambers in the late afternoon, Cr Simpson informed Cr Pesce he would not be supporting him on this occasion.
Cr Simpson was subsequently elected mayor with the backing of Labor councillors, while Labor councillor Michael Forshaw won the ballot for deputy mayor with Cr Simpson's help.
Cr Pesce appeared to have a strong grasp on the mayoral chains. After serving in the role for the last year of the previous council, he gained the role for the first half of this term through a draw from a hat and the following two years with Cr Simpson's support.
His confidence in retaining the position for a sixth year, through the council election being put back by coronavirus, was based on a conversation he and Cr Simpson had on Thursday last week.
The two councillors have different recollections of what was said at that meeting.
"I am disappointed because Steve Simpson told me on Thursday he was going to support me," Cr Pesce said today.
"I think we have both done a good job and the whole council has worked well together.
"I am a straight shooter and if I was not going to support someone I would tell them straight to their face.
"It's disappointing, but that's politics - that's the game we are in.
"But, I have had five fantastic years. I have learnt a lot, I have met some amazing people and worked with some amazing people and I am still a councillor."
Cr Pesce said he was heartened by the many calls of support he had received since last night, including from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.
Cr Simpson denied telling Cr Pesce he would support him.
"Carmelo asked me if I was happy with the situation [their mayor and deputy mayor roles] and I said I was happy at this stage and if anything changed or came up then I would talk to him, which I did."
It is understood Labor's offer to support Cr Simpson was conveyed to him while he was on the South Coast on the weekend and was cemented on Monday.
Knowing nothing of the offer, Cr Pesce called Cr Simpson about lunchtime on Monday to arrange for the nomination forms to be signed.
When he didn't get a call back, alarm bells sounded.
Cr Pesce's fears were confirmed when they finally met about an hour before the meeting.
It is understood Cr Simpson shared the view of Labor councillors that while Cr Pesce had done a good job as mayor, he had become a "one man band" in representing the council, and the views and work of other councillors were not being seen by the community.
Labor councillors were also keen to neutralise the mayoral role in the lead up to the council election in September 2021.
Long-time Liberal councillor Carol Provan said Cr Pesce was very disappointed, but she believes he will bounce back.
"Carmelo has done a great job and is the most recognisable face in the shire," she said. "He won't lose his profile in a year."
Labor caucus chairman Peter Scaysbrook said of the decision to support Cr Simpson: "We weren't exactly loaded with options, and we needed to make a decision on what we thought was best for us and the shire".
"Carmelo has done a fine job in a difficult time, and I will offer the same assistance to Steve Simpson as I did to Carmelo," he said.