The numbers are “looking good” but Independent mayoral candidate for Port Stephens Ryan Palmer won't yet declare victory.
Mr Palmer, the president of Tomaree Business Chamber, has established a healthy lead not counting preferences.
"Until those pre-polls come through, I'm not prepared to call it but it's looking good so far," he said.
"The vibe among voters today was very encouraging. They want a fresh, new approach to council and one of the main things that came through was the need for our youth of Port Stephens to have opportunities."
With 27,273 votes counted Mr Palmer has 31.49pc of the vote before preferences with Sally Dover the next closest on 18.15pc.
Mr Palmer was surrounded by supporters at the Nelson Bay Tennis Club where a celebratory mood filled the room.
He responded to speculation that his campaign spend had exceeded $100,000.
"My family, the people who have supported me have been dedicated throughout the campaign," he said.
"If you're going to do something, you've got to do it right. And that's the approach I will bring to council.
"I'll be dedicated to the role, full time."
Meanwhile Labor mayoral candidate Des Maslen (13.07pc) said he won't concede just yet.
"I want to see how the votes come in, for a while yet," he said.
"I want to have a look at it in the light of day tomorrow, when we'll know where everyone sits and stands."
Mr Maslen started his day at Bobs Farm, the first school he ever went to.
"It was quite a nostalgic moment for me," he said.
"It's been a long day, a long two weeks.
"But I met a lot of lovely people who gave us a lot of support for our positive campaign, and they were very appreciative of how we went about it.
"Win loose or draw, I'm very proud of what we've done."