With just under eight months to go before Jerusalem elections, the race is decidedly lukewarm. Five years ago a bitter extended slugfest between Moshe Lion and Nir Barkat featured accusations of political conspiracies and claims that knowledge of Mifgash Hasheikh was critical to running the city. This year, however, a crowded field and Nir Barkat’s ambivalence is creating a far murkier picture.
Currently, all six declared candidates, featuring front-runners Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman and Opposition Head Ofer Berkovitch, come from the “pluralist” (read: non-Haredi) camp. The crowded list did not stop unknown lawyer Erez Huja from announcing his candidacy with a flurry of advertisements on the side of city buses. Huja is a former executive at the Rami Levi chain stores and worked for Moshe Lion in the last election. As of this writing, he does not have a Facebook photo or page.
Huja has been asked whether it is wise for another non-Haredi contender to enter the race. Indeed, frustration has mounted in some pluralist circles that are concerned that the bevy of candidates will, in the end, place a Haredi Jerusalemite in the mayor’s chair. Jerusalem’s leading pluralist party, Hitorerut, has offered that the other pluralist parties enter into negotiations to support their mayoral candidate, former Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch. However, at this point, their proposal has gone unrequited.
Meanwhile, Lion, who ran for mayor last year as a hybrid pluralist-Haredi candidate seems like he is also preparing to run. He is currently forming a list to run in the next elections and will likely do his best to gain Haredi support in the next election which could prove decisive if the pluralist vote is split.
Another pluralist candidate, Meir Turjeman, encountered some troubles this week when Yediot Aharonot pointed out that the person in charge of planning and building in Jerusalem should probably not appear in advertisements for a real estate company. In the past, Turjeman has been accused of using his position to help his friends to promote building projects and to purchase land himself though has never been found guilty of anything significant.
All those candidates though, are waiting for mayor Nir Barkat, who seems to be doing his best to slow the race down. Barkat was expected to declare whether he would run by the end of 2017 and recently said that he will do so by Passover. While there has been no official explanation as to the delay, most theories revolve around his decision to join the Likud and possibly run for a position in the Knesset. According to sources within the municipality, Likud activists are skeptical of Barkat’s chances in party primaries causing Barkat to attempt to raise his profile in the party before making a decision. Alternatively, Berkovitch accused Barkat of already deciding to not run, but of avoiding announcing in order to continue using municipal funds to support his national aspirations.
While the murky pluralist field seems to be increasing the chance of a Haredi mayor winning the elections, it is important to note that only one Haredi mayor has ever succeeded in gaining control of Safra Square. That said, the crowded field, Barkat’s delay and a stormy national political picture are creating a lukewarm atmosphere that could create strange results.