Councillor Marie Simone has lost a Liberal Party preselection battle for the Sutherland Shire Council election, which will be held on September 4.
Cr Simone challenged Cr Carol Provan for the top position in A Ward (Cronulla and coastal areas) when preselections were conducted on Friday night, but lost by 162 votes to 74.
In a ballot for the second spot on the ticket, Cr Simone was defeated 137 votes to 88 by a newcomer to shire politics, Marcelle Elzerman, who is on the staff of right-wing, Wollongong based Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
The preselection ballots were held remotely and under new rules in which all active Liberal Party branch members in the shire were allowed to vote.
Party sources said the majority of votes would have been cast according to the directions of factional leaders.
The voting figures indicate a substantial number of the left wing Moderates faction, to which Cr Simone belongs, voted with the right wing against her.
According to sources, leaders of the Moderates faction are believed to have organised against Cr Simone and her principal supporter, former mayor Kent Johns.
Cr Johns' power base in the shire has weakened considerably over the last few years.
He has even been relegated to second spot on the Liberal ticket for B Ward behind newcomer Louise Sullivan, the president of Netball NSW, who has the backing of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Cr Johns will have an uphill battle to be reelected because the Liberals have only won two of the three positions in B Ward once before.
One source said the Liberals will "need to win in a landslide" for Cr Johns to be elected, but another said he had "at least a 50-50 chance".
Cr Johns has also suffered setbacks in trying to gain preselection for the federal seat of Hughes and to fill a vacancy in the NSW upper house.
The lead Liberal candidates for the election, subject to endorsement by head office, are: Carol Provan (A Ward), Louise Sullivan (B Ward), Hassan Awada (C Ward), Carmelo Pesce (D Ward) and Stephen Nikolovski (E Ward).