If Nitzan Horowitz wins Tel Aviv’s municipal election in October, the city will be able to mark a double first.
The Meretz MK will become the Middle East’s first openly gay mayor, and the first politician in the region to have allowed his homosexuality to become part of his electoral campaign. “It’s not a gimmick,” he says. “There is a meaning to this… I can understand why people are talking about it.”
Mr Horowitz’s candidature will inevitably prompt talk of Tel Aviv as a hub of social freedom. But the veteran civil rights campaigner and former journalist insists that Tel Aviv still needs a healthy dose of liberalism and social justice. At the top of his agenda are improving education, eco-friendly policies and better deal for immigrants.
“The position of Tel Aviv mayor is influential way beyond the borders of the city,” says Mr Horowitz, who announced his candidacy last week.
“I joined politics to campaign for ideals of social justice, better education and environment. I can achieve these as Tel Aviv mayor more than I can as an MK. And Tel Aviv is not just some little town on the sea, it is the most influential city in Israel, the centre of its media and economy.”
Mr Horowitz will have to beat three-term Mayor Ron Huldai, who won each of his elections with landslides. Despite the uphill challenge, a recent poll gave Mr Horowitz the best chance of any candidate of beating Mr Huldai.
But how will he convince the city’s voters to replace a mayor who has presided over a period of unprecedented prosperity? “There are a lot of good things in Tel Aviv and Huldai has done a lot, but there is still a lot that needs fixing: crowded classrooms, a dilapidated public transport system, an acute shortage of kindergartens and the neglected south of the city.”
One of his passions is to improve the city’s woeful bus network. “They have been talking about an underground rail in Tel Aviv since the early 1960s,” says Mr Horowitz. “It hasn’t happened and, in the meantime, they have neglected other solutions. We have to face the fact that not all cities are alike and the solutions that work in London may not be the ones for Tel Aviv. We have to explore ideas such as trams, electric buses, special lanes for public transport.”
Another issue he plans to deal with is the large colony of African migrants that has grown up around the main bus station in south Tel Aviv.
As a former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Workers sub-committee, Mr Horowitz believes that the migrants in Tel Aviv should be allowed to work legally. “Israel still brings over 27,000 foreign workers to work in agriculture, it’s ridiculous that those in Tel Aviv not be allowed to work.”
As a former foreign correspondent and editor for Haaretz and Channel Ten, Mr Horowitz is one of a wave of candidates who have given up journalism and gone into politics. What’s more, he is making the most of his outsider’s perspective: “There is no lack of talented managers but what Tel Aviv needs now is vision,” he says.