Three things to watch in the municipal election this Tuesday:
1. Tel Aviv: Mayor Ron Huldai is running for a third term after 10 years in office, backed by both Kadima and Labor parties. On the previous election Huldai won in a landslide without really campaigning, but public opinion of him has changed in the last two years. Huldai has failed to address the problem of raising rent and further worsened the situation for himsels by declaring that this was a normal result of the free market. Tel Aviv during his time in office became so attractive, he claimed, that everyone wanted to live in it. Huldai, a former pilot for the Air Force, who became a national figure as the successful principal of one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, has also made some unpopular decisions, such as taking down the legendary Osishkin basketball arena, home of Hapoel Tel Aviv, the second most popular team in the city.
His surprising challenger is MK Dov Khenin of Hadash, the radical left wing party. Khenin has built an Obama-like coalition of representatives from the poor neighborhoods in the south of the city, and the young students, journalists and bohemian crowd from the city center. Khenin is the grandson of an important Chabad rabbi, and was the former chairman of the “Environment and Life” organization, which amalgamates most of the environmental organizations in Israel.
The polls gave Huldai a 20 plus points advantage just a month ago, but the race has tightened since and the margin is considered to be in the high single digit area. Still, even the slight chance that a communist like Khenin will lead Israel’s cultural and financial capital is surprising, to say the least, considering the current political atmosphere.
My prediction: Huldai, by a margin of 15 points or more.
2. Jerusalem: Israel’s bankrupt capital presents its next mayor with too many challenges: the population is poor, most of the secular elite and business people have long fled the city, and the Palestinians on the east side are getting more and more hostile (it’s no surprise: Israel has made everything in its power to make their lives miserable). Still, being the mayor of one of the worlds most holly and well known cities carries some prestige; so three men are actually running for the post.
Reb Uri Lupoliansky, the city’s first Hasidic mayor, is not running for re-election. The front runner in the polls is the secular right-wing leaning businessman Nir Barkat, who had until recently a 15 points advantage over ultra-orthodox MK Meir Porush. It was supposed to be an easy one for Barkat, since some important rabbis have opposed Porush’s candidacy publicly. But Barkat has alienated the few liberal seculars left in the city with his anti Arab rhetoric, and Porush has gained some momentum. The eccentric millionaire Arkady Gaidamak is also running, and might hurt Barkat even further with the secular vote.
My prediction: Porush will turn out to be the surprise of this election, winning the capitol with a narrow margin.
3. The Green Party: The municipal election in Israel is a split vote: you cast one vote for the mayor and another for a party to be elected for the city council. The ecological ideology, once totally foreign to Israeli discourse, has continuously been gaining ground, and the Greens are now expected to get 2-3 MK for the first time in the general election. Could the Green Party be “the default vote” for the city council this Tuesday for those interested only in the race for the mayoral position?
My prediction: The Greens will have a good day, especially on the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv (though not in Tel Aviv itself, where Khenin’s party, “city for all of us” – the name doesn’t sound better in Hebrew – will carry most of the ecological vote). It will be also interesting to watch Avigdor Liberman’s “Israel Beitenu” performance tomorrow. The party chose to go with a national campaign, presenting only Liberman’s picture and non of the municipal candidates. I think Liberman might perform well in the mixed cities.
As for myself, I will vote for Dov Khenin for mayor of Tel Aviv and Meretz for city council.