Jerusalem mayoral race enters last lap

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 17, 2008

The Four candidates vying for the job of Jerusalem's mayor in the elections that will take place on November 11 have been finalised.

The two front-runners are MK Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism (UTJ), representing Jerusalem's strictly Orthodox community, and the independent Nir Barkat, who has led the opposition in Jerusalem's City Hall for the last five years and has emerged as the champion of the secular camp.

Although there was uncertainty right until the final deadline for candidacies, current mayor Uri Lupolianski will not be running for a second term, as the result of a controversial deal within UTJ limiting council heads to only one term.

Neither will former Shas minister Arieh Deri be in the running due to the decision of the District Court last week not to allow his candidacy since not enough time has elapsed since his 1999 conviction on corruption charges. Mr Porush therefore remains the only Charedi candidate.

The strictly Orthodox make up about a quarter of the Jewish voters - the Arab citizens of East Jerusalem routinely boycott the elections - and although Mr Porush can rely on extremely high turn-out figures from his core constituency, he needs substantial support from non-Charedi voters if he intends to follow in Mr Lupolianski's footsteps.

His campaign has been running posters with a smiling cartoon of the candidate and the slogan "Jerusalem will love Porush", while he has been meeting secular voters in a bid to reassure them that he will not attempt to enforce any form of religious coercion on the city.

Mr Barkat's strategy will be to try and boost turnout among secular voters who in previous elections exhibited apathy and stayed away from the polling stations.

He is also targeting the national-religious constituency who are also being courted by Mr Porush. Despite previous talks with the main political parties - Kadima, Labour and Likud - it seems that none of them were interested in wasting funds and political capital in the notoriously fickle Jerusalem contest.

The dark horse of the race is oligarch Arkady Gaydamak, making his first official foray into Israeli politics.
Mr Gaydamak bought Beitar Jerusalem, the city's most popular football team, three years ago and is now trying to capitalise on the ownership. His campaign posters are in the yellow and black Beitar colours but despite this, he is lagging a distant third place in the polls.

Mr Gaydamak's Social Justice party is running in the local elections in dozens of towns throughout the country, but it still is not clear whether ongoing criminal investigations in Israel, a trial for arms-smuggling in France and his bank demanding he repay multiple loans will allow him to mount a serious campaign.
In a last-minute development, Dan Biron, a veteran producer and director announced he would be running for mayor on behalf of Ale Yarok (Green Leaf) the party that is campaigning to legalise marijuana.

Mr Biron said he was running as "the only real secular candidate" following Mr Barkat's overtures to the religious community.


    Last updated: 5:53pm, October 16 2008