On the hustings this week the candidates were clear: ratepayers want stability and continued competent leadership, said the incumbents. And the new challengers were certain that the people were showing a strong mood for change.
In the absence of opinion polls we turn to reading the tea leaves.
Or has Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery done enough to consolidate his appeal to the electorate after two terms?
Dislodging Bradbery will be no easy task; the former Reverend has won twice with a large primary vote margin, and has managed to right the ship post-ICAC, restoring credibility and stability to a council that had lost both. But will his appeal sustain now that work has been done, and voters must decide on his other achievements?
Labor believes Tania Brown is the candidate to get them there - with the might of the party machine behind her, Brown has been highly visible, with posters up since June (posters bold enough to offer "new leadership" despite her involvement in council and Labor politics for many years).
Brown is well-connected in sport, business and the university; whether this translates into votes on the ground will be seen.
In Shellharbour, by contrast, Chris Homer is up against it to beat Labor stalwart Marianne Saliba, who is facing a direct election for the first time in her nine years as mayor.
Homer is riding the strength of the Save Killalea movement and seems well liked across Shellharbour - even by his opponent - but it's hard to picture this political cleanskin having extended his profile enough beyond Killalea and the environment to threaten Saliba, who seems to have survived the backlash against rate rises.
In Shellharbour the battle may come down to who can best engage voters. Going hard on social media has been Kellie Marsh's independent group, pushing the local angle, claiming their Labor opposition was less attached to the community.
In Wollongong the northern and southern wards will tell a story. Can Cameron Walters win in Ward 1, after unseating the well-liked (and very disappointed) Leigh Colacino from the top of the Liberal ticket. Walters has campaigned on road congestion but will voters trust a Liberal given the State Government's inaction on improving transport?
Changes to the northern suburbs' demography - with more Sydneysiders moving down during the past two years - may influence the outcome. Whether this boosts or deflates the Greens' vote, traditionally strong up north, is worth watching.
In Ward 3 a highly visible new candidate, Jess Whittaker, is running for the Greens, and will make some noise if elected. But to get there she'll have to oust either existing councillors Ann Martin or Dom Figliomeni, beat a solid Liberal candidate in former steel worker Elisha Aitken, who can take over for the Libs after Walters' departure, or outpoll Gordon Bradbery should he not win the mayoral race.
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